By  on July 16, 2008

BANGALORE, India — Although it continues to be a major exporter of cotton products and apparel, the Indian government and industry see huge potential in a new segment — technical, industrial and nonwoven textiles — for the domestic and export markets.

“In India, a big chunk of the population today is less than 30 years old,” said D.K. Nair, secretary general of the Confederation of Indian Textile Industry. “This provides a huge market.”

Nair sees immense possibilities for technical and nonwoven textiles in a range of applications, including diapers, wipes and sanitary towels. These textiles also have extensive applications in the rapidly expanding automobile and health care industries.

Production of technical textiles in India is currently negligible at about 60,000 metric tons annually and raw materials are being imported.

“It is a chicken and egg situation,” Nair said. “As there is negligible production, consumption is low. As consumption is low, there is negligible production.”

The situation, however, is about to change, with the government planning several initiatives to boost production of these textiles, and industry is also waking up to the potential of the segment.

Researchers at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Tex., have projected annual growth of 13.3 percent for India’s nonwoven and technical textile industry in the next two decades, more than twice the annual 5 to 6 percent growth expected in the U.S. and Europe.

In a study at Texas Tech’s Non-woven and Advanced Materials Laboratory at the Institute of Environmental & Human Health, Seshadri Ramkumar, an assistant professor, and Appachi Arunachalam, a visiting scholar from India, said after 2035 the growth rate of the nonwoven and technical textile industry in India will be exponential.

“With the new government initiatives in India, the growth rate will be much faster,” Ramkumar said.

The study said the current per capita consumption of nonwovens in India is estimated at less than 100 grams, while in developed markets such as the U.S. and Western Europe it is about 3 to 3.5 kilograms.

Ramkumar said India had initiated steps for establishing four centers of excellence in medical textiles, geo-textiles, agro-textiles and protective textiles.

“This offers a business opportunity for U.S. and European textile industries to expand and seek new markets,” he said. “Players such as North Carolina-based Glen Raven and Finland-based Ahlstrom are utilizing this new opportunity.”

For the past four years, researchers at the laboratory have worked to bridge the nonwoven and technical textile industries of the U.S. and India. As part of this effort, Texas Tech is organizing the fifth annual conference on Advances in Textiles, Machinery, Non-woven and Technical Textiles this month in Coimbatore, South India.

Separately, a leading industry group said India’s technical textile market could grow fourfold to become a $37 billion industry by 2020, provided issues such as lack of investment and absence of research and development are addressed. A report by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry and Technopak said the Indian technical textiles market has been registering growth of 11.25 percent and now stands at $8.3 billion.

“The demand for geo-textiles and protective textiles is set to grow manifold in view of the growing infrastructure and increasing use of fire-retardant textiles in applications,” the report said, adding consumption of geo-tech in the next five years could be around $2.3 billion.

An internal document of the Ministry of Textiles said growth in the domestic health care sector was expected to be more than 17 percent a year, owing to rising per capita spending on health care products, greater exposure to international products in this area, importance and awareness of health insurance, and medical tourism.

The Indian technical textile industry has not grown in the past partly because of government policy neglect. The government is taking steps to tap into the industry’s potential. The Textiles Ministry set up a committee in January, with plans to convert it into a development council for growth and export promotion of technical textiles. It has also commissioned a baseline survey of the domestic technical textile industry to assess production, consumption, export, import and technology levels.

In other moves, the ministry modified the technology upgrade fund scheme, extending 10 percent capital subsidy, in addition to 5 percent interest reimbursement, to technical textile machinery.

“What we need is legislative backup to make mandatory the use of technical textiles,” Nair said.

The government is developing a consensus for use of specific technical textile products and will examine the feasibility of a regulatory framework.

A technology mission, announced by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last September, will provide support for the development of the technical textile industry in capacity building, standardization, product development, common testing faculties, domestic and export market development and skill development.

The technical textiles segment has begun to attract attention from apparel and fabric manufacturers. For example, companies like the LNJ Bhilwara Group, headquartered in Delhi, and apparel-maker SEL Mfg., based in Ludhiana, are entering the segment in a big way.�

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