The ITMA Blog


Only growth ahead for fibres and yarns

by Adrian Wilson | 25 Feb, 2015

According to a detailed study by leading Indian textile manufacturer Alok Industries, global textile and apparel trade was worth US$77 billion in 2013 and will grow at an annual 6.6% to reach a value of $1.18 trillion in 2020.

Of these figures, roughly 56% of sales are accounted for by apparel and 17% by fabrics, while at the very beginning of the textile chain, 6% is generated by the international trade in fibres and 7% by yarns.

Meanwhile, around 89.5 million tonnes of fibres were produced in 2013, according to CIRFS, the European Man-Made Fibres Association, and over 63 million were man-made – roughly 70% of the total.

Polyester accounted for 47.1 million tonnes alone, and continues to grow its share, with the majority manufactured in China.

There is currently, however, significantly more polyester capacity than mill demand for it. CIRFS suggests total overcapacity was 27% in 2013, with 20% being Chinese production. Total overcapacity will grow to 27% this year, of which 23% will be Chinese production.

It’s a situation the industry is aware of and responding to, and during 2014 three of the major Chinese producers of polyester filament fibres are reported to have reduced their capacities, with more expected to follow suit this year.

In the longer term though, only further growth is expected for polyester, and especially in filament form.

“Polyester filament is so versatile, with the ability to produce such a wide variety of fibre types efficiently, while employing a very clean technology,” says Peter Driscoll, a leading industry analyst with PCI Fibres. “We see all the long-term growth in filament and not staple.”

Driscoll also sees spunlaid nonwovens based on polyester filament starting to replace traditional textiles in the general apparel market in the coming years.

“Historically, if you look at the textile industry, it was based on staple fibres, and even when the man-made fibre industry started producing filament, the practice was to chop it up to make fibres and felt it together again, until the Belgian carpet industry first decided to stay with the filament,” he said. “These things take time to develop, but I don’t see the gains which will be made by nonwovens in the coming years in roofing felt or interlinings, I see them in the whole gamut of current textile applications.”

While China’s fibre industry may currently be overly-reliant on polyester production, it is still by far the largest manufacturer of man-made fibres, accounting for 64% of the total.

Europe is second placed with a 7% share, but at the same time its man-made fibre mix is much more balanced than China’s.

Of total European production of 3.7 million tonnes in 2013, 31% was polyester, 24% polypropylene, 15% cellulosic, 15% acrylic, 12% polyamide and 3% other.

There has been a considerable repositioning of the fibre industries of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan over the past decade, with a focus on highly-specialised fibres with added value in the market.

The production of viscose fibres in the early part of the 20th century, followed by the advent of synthetic fibres, can be considered a pivotal period in the industrial awakening of Japan, and led to the growth and development a number of highly diversified multi-corporations including Toray Industries, Teijin and Mitsubishi Rayon. They now offer highly diverse portfolios of speciality fibres, including not just polyesters and polyamides, but aramids, carbon, microfibres, nanofibres and other advanced products.

The recent development of South Korea’s man-made fibres industry has also involved a concentration on highly specialised products in key developing markets.

For thirty years, up until 2001, South Korea’s industry achieved rapid growth, but was subsequently and very quickly overshadowed by the industries of China and India. At its 2001 peak, South Korean man-made fibres production was around 2.5 million tons, but in 2014 was down to 1.7 million tons – although with substantial value added compared to back in 2001.

The fields identified by South Korea as areas of its national ‘6T Convergence’ programme – as the prime drivers of post-industrial production on which new fibre development is focused are:

  • Information technology
  • Biotechnology
  • Nanotechnology
  • Environmental technology
  • Space technology
  • Culture technology

It’s notable too, that India’s exports of man-made fibres and filament yarns have largely overtaken its exports of cotton spun yarns in recent years.

In fact, the company’s exports of man-made filament yarns almost doubled between 2010 and 2013, with the value of these exports having climbed from $736 million in 2010 to $1.4 billion in 2013.

Europe is also the leader in recycled polyester (rPET), and there is currently a massive effort going into recycling, with over half of the polyester staple fibre consumed in Europe already having been used once.

And in a significant development at the end of January this year, an open house event was held by BBE, a subsidiary of Oerlikon Barmag, in Ramscheid, Germany, to unveil the world’s first bottle-to-POY spinning line in operation.

Oerlikon Barmag

The VarioFil R+ POY line employs recycled bottle flakes – as opposed to the conventional pelletised chips – as the feedstock for producing dope-dyed textile filament yarns. This leads to a significant advantage in terms of investment and energy costs and the new system is likely to attract significant interest at ITMA 2015.

European cellulosics production has also received a major boost with the recent opening of Lenzing’s new Tencel fibre production plant in Austria. Built in just 24 months and representing an investment of €130 million, this plant is three times the size of previous Tencel plants, with an annual capacity of 67,000 tons.

The jumbo production line significantly increases production efficiency compared to existing technology and Lenzing remains the only company in the world with the capability of implementing complex lyocell technology on an industrial scale. Growth has been predicted for such fibres as a result of what’s referred to as ‘the cellulosic gap’.

This holds that the land available globally for cultivating cotton will gradually become diminished because it will be required for growing crops to feed the world’s growing population. As a result, the price of cotton will rise, to the extent that it will eventually come to be viewed as a luxury fibre.

A few years ago, for example, the volatility of the cotton market resulted in an unprecedented demand for cellulosic fibres and synthetic fibres such as polyester and standard viscose were also able to take advantage of the high cotton price.

There is little sign, however, of this happening permanently, or in the immediate future. The market forces both inside and outside of China that have kept cotton prices higher in recent years have suddenly disappeared. The result has been that cotton prices around the world have fallen significantly and are very low in the first months of 2015. Industry body Cotton Incorporated reports that it is primarily Chinese cotton policy reforms along with the expectation of large cotton harvests elsewhere in the world that have been responsible.

Cotton Incorporated

There has also been a significant increase in the cotton produced per hectare of land over the last decade, as a result of improved growing methods and smarter and more environmentally-friendly irrigation techniques.

Despite being such a traditional industry, there are still signs of innovation in the long tried and tested area of cotton and polycotton spinning. Alpha Cotton fabrics from India’s Alok Industries, for example, represent a new breakthrough in what’s possible with cotton and polyester blend yarns. In this polycotton construction, all of the polyester is sheathed within the cotton, as a result of how it’s cross woven. As a result, it provides all the advantages of 100% cotton, but at a much more competitive price.

BeirTex polycotton yarns which are supplied by Sapphire Textiles of Pakistan, meanwhile, are made with a technology that makes it possible to spin most of the cotton fibres around a polyester core. The fabric is then sanforised to reduce shrinkage even further, and this also makes the textile softer. As a consequence, the ‘feel-good’ sensation of cotton that end-users prefer is as convincing as in 100% pure cotton products.

Machinery sales
While the sales of cotton spinning machinery to Pakistan, Vietnam and Indonesia soared in 2013, China itself remains the main destination for yarn manufacturing machinery, according to the International Textile Manufacturers Federation (ITMF).

This market has been a little depressed globally, although shipments of short staple, cotton-type ring spindles increased by 9.9% in 2013 to 11.6 million, following a 26.7% decline in 2012.

Shipments to China fell by 2.8% – equating to 181,800 less spindles. There was also a fall in deliveries of open end rotor spinning machines to China in 2013, down by 25.3%, or 92,3000 rotors, while draw texturing machinery shipments fell by 25.1%.
Nevertheless, between 2004 and 2013, China has been by far the biggest investor in such machinery, accounting for a 58.2% share of all short staple spinning machinery purchased. There are currently estimated to be 115 million short staple spindles in operation in China.

Other major investors in short staple spindles during 2013 included India (2.19 million spindles), Indonesia (757,000), Turkey (566,000) and Pakistan (546,000). At the same time, there are now some 2.7 billion open end rotors installed in China, along with around 2.9 million false-twist texturing machines. During 2013, China added a further 271,740 open end rotors, India purchased 30,980, Turkey added 28,640 rotors, Vietnam 13,660 rotors and Malaysia 12,040.

As far as texturing machines are concerned in 2013, China added 366,480 new double heater draw-texturing spindles, followed by Japan with 30,860, India with 21,640, Vietnam with 8,160 and Egypt with 7,920.

Future investments
Despite Lenzing’s significant investment in Tencel in Europe, its outgoing chief operating officer Friedrich Weninger, has little doubt where fibre industry investments will remain in the short term. “Of the emerging BRIC economies,” he said, “Russia is now being impacted by mutual protectionism over Ukraine, while both Brazil and India have yet to achieve the growth expected.

“There has been a slowdown in China’s GDP growth, but that annual growth still equates to Switzerland’s entire annual GDP. It accounts for sixty-six per cent of the man-made fibres market and there is no other industry in which China is so dominant and no new fibre it isn’t being developed. Europe and the other developed regions no longer have a monopoly on technology advances, the ecology, or marketing.”

Lenzing will be one of the major fibre producers with a presence at ITMA 2015 in Milan, as the show continues to expand its reach and showcase technology to appeal to all areas of the textile manufacturing supply chain – from raw materials through to finished fabrics and garments.


And of course, all of the major manufacturers of natural and synthetic fibre and yarn spinning systems – including CHTC, Fare, Oerlikon, Rieter, Saurer and Savio – will be too, to advise visitors how to get the best from their raw materials on the latest 21st century technology.