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SHANGHAI — Executives among the 100,000 visitors to the fifth and largest edition of ITMA Asia last month said the textile machinery and technology exhibition came at a time of transition for the textile industry in China.

As part of the Chinese government’s latest five-year plan, the textile industry and other major manufacturing sectors are being encouraged to utilize advanced processes and embrace more automation, as well as energy-saving, emission-reducing and green technology equipment as part of the next step in developing the industry.

The show featured 1,673 exhibitors from 28 countries, with almost 70 percent of the space occupied by Chinese manufacturers.

Among the key technological innovations were more energy-efficient and sustainable machinery and processes, advances in digital printing and analyzing equipment to improve overall production.

Chinese companies, which made up the majority of customers at the ITMA Asia show, have traditionally gravitated to domestic machinery suppliers, as a low price point was the primary concern. With recent government directive and economic pressures forcing surviving textile manufacturers to move up the value chain, however, international machinery makers have been presented with a unique opportunity.

“The main advantage of the domestic textile machinery is low price,” Lin said. “In spite of great improvement of domestic textile machinery in automation, stability and reliability, there is still a gap with the imported textile machinery. They can’t match imports in terms of high quality and yield.”

It’s this desire for international quality and expertise, as well as sustainability certifications that companies such as Germany’s Thies Textilmaschinen, which pushed its sustainable dying solutions, were hoping to tap into.

“We realize that some of these [visitors are] replacing the old machines in their dye houses with the latest, state-of-the-art equipment,” said Jochen Stillger, director of sales for Thies Textilmaschinen. “There are also some cases where they were working with local machinery manufacturers who now can’t fulfill the environmental standard requirements, so they have to change to imported machinery. This is where we come into the picture and where we see great potential.”

Fellow German company A. Monforts showed machines with a sustainable bent for denim, specifically an energy reducing eco-booster heat recovery system capable of being retrofitted on existing machinery, as well as its eco-denim range that uses innovative coatings to reduce the amount of moisture required and therefore the amount of energy-sapping drying processes as part of denim manufacturing.

Jürgen Hänel, business unit manager for technical textiles at A. Monforts, sees numerous parallels between the Chinese textile industry now, which has seen the denim sector in particular suffer a loss of global market share to Bangladesh, Vietnam and Myanmar and the European industry of 50 years ago.

“There are very sophisticated manufacturers here,” he said. “For them I see hope. They can retrofit their machines, invest in new machines. Compare the situation now with Europe in the 60s and 70s, nearly 90 percent of our textile industry died. Those that survived were the ones that changed. If you think about the short term, you won’t change and you won’t survive.”

The fast-rising digital printing sector — expected to grow 22 percent in 2016, according to estimates from market research conducted by WTiN Intelligence’s Digital Textiles division — was well represented, with a number of global sector leaders showing the latest in ink-jet printing machinery.

“The ink-jet system shortens the process. With traditional printing, where you need to make a screen, that can take three weeks, with ink jet printing we can reduce this time by 60 percent,” said Mikito Nakahata, a manager at Konica Minolta’s Textile Business Group, adding that there was a growing awareness of the ongoing running costs of machinery, as well as the initial purchase prices.

At the leading edge of the trend for automation is the Swiss testing company Uster Technologies AG, which has a “virtual assistant” known as Assistant Q that can collate data from the company’s range of testing machines in order to achieve consistent quality that is beyond the scope of human capability.

“You can save money, waste, energy and human resources, and if you do your quality management with the total testing center, you can save $200,000 to $250,000, and for spinners with low margins, that can be important,” said Edith Aepli, senior marketing manager at Uster Technoloies AG, adding that they weren’t expecting Assistant Q to be immediately embraced by the Chinese market, as opposed to Turkey, India and the U.S.

“Every two years you can see the progress, how they have improved in their way of thinking,” she added. “I have been visiting customers in China and you can see everything here — there are spinning mills where the floor is shining and everything is perfect, other places you have to watch every step so you don’t break your leg. We are waiting for them to come to the level of what we do. Assistant Q is the most innovative we have to offer. It takes time but it will develop.”

To cater to spinners using man-made fibers, Oerlikon Barmag presented 12 new solutions, one of the most innovative of which focuses on texturing. The eAFK HQ claims to be the world’s most productive automatic machine for texturing.

Zinser who showed the new fully automated ZinserSpeed 5A roving frame, which consumes 20 percent less energy than its predecessors and the Zinser 72, which features 2,016 spindles and claims to be most economical platform for ring and contact spinning. It’s innovative suction technology uses 66 percent less energy than its competitors.

Circular knitting machine manufacturer Mayer & Cie displayed its new MSC 3.2.II single jersey machine developed especially for the Chinese market and designed for high productivity, utilizing up to four needle tracks and producing fine-gauge E36 fabrics.

Flat-knitting specialist H. Stoll showed its prototype CMS 330HP W multigauge for the first time at ITMA Asia. It’s meant to meet the special technical requirements of shoe fabrication, as well as demanding fashion sector applications with features that can be individually selected according to the needs of the customer and the fabric being produced.

Addressing a worldwide shortage of raw materials and a growing awareness of environmental issues, particularly in Asia, France’s Laroche has focused on textile waste recycling technologies. Almost any type of textile waste can be repurposed into reusable fibers, with technologies able to take post-consumer garments, open them into fiber — simultaneously removing zippers and buttons — before respinning the recovered fiber into yarn.