Cotton. Linen. Jean. These are some of the materials used to make the clothing you are wearing right now. Whether you are lounging around the house in sweatpants, in the middle of a swim competition, or working out in a sweat-drenched t-shirt, each fabric has their own properties to help with its intended activity. For example, cotton workout pants have wicking properties in order to “wick” the sweat away so it doesn’t pool or chafe against your skin causing discomfort. How though, does a material wick away moisture?
The answer is nanotechnology. Nanotechnology first started as an idea in a 1959 conference talk with Richard Feynman (National Nanotechnology Initiative, 2015). Later it developed into an actual process where scientists could manipulate and control individual atoms (National Nanotechnology Initiative, 2015). From here, nanotechnology can therefore be defined as the overall manipulation of atoms or molecules. Nano (a unit measure of one billionth or 10^-9 of a unit), explains the extent of the scale of which these molecules are controlled. To put this in perspective, a sheet of newspaper has a thickness of approximately 100,000 nanometres (National Nanotechnology Initiative, 2015).
This manipulation of molecules is widely recognized in industries such as electronics, health care, biomedical, and more commonly, agriculture/food. One of the fastest growing industries with the biggest benefit of nanotechnology is the fashion/textile industry. Nanotechnology can be used to alter fabric properties to create hybrid fibres, anti-stain properties, and electroconducting/antistatic textiles (See figure 1 for some examples of the applications of nanotechnology).
Figure 1: Nanotechnology Applications
During the process of manufacturing textiles, the greige (untreated fabric fresh from the looms) will typically be bleached and then dyed to a specific colour in order to be prepped for the cutting of the clothing pattern. As previously stated, certain articles of clothing have desired properties such as wicking, UV protection, or antibacterial. These properties can be incorporated into the fabric with the help of a type of nanotechnology called nanofinishing. When nanofinishing is applied to fabric, operations must include an extra step.
Below is a list of some examples of functional performance enhancements and the required extra steps that are taken during the manufacturing process:
Silicon is a hydrophobic material in nature, meaning that it makes the perfect match to pair with fabric in order to repel water. Nanotechnology weaves 40nm thick filaments into the desired fabric to keep water from traversing the material (Soutter, 2015). Operations such as the Coast Guard use clothing that is waterproof in order to keep the guards safe and healthy.
Inorganic UV blockers are typically preferred over organic UV blockers because they are more stable in varying temperatures (Patra & Gouda, 2014). Normally, 10-50nm thick rods of titanium dioxide or zinc oxide are applied to cotton fabric to absorb and scatter the UV rays (Patra & Gouda, 2014). Professional watersport personnel wear UV protected clothing to save their skin from constant exposure to cancerous and harmful UV rays.
Synthetic fibres such as nylon and polyester absorb little water and usually buildup a static charge (Kiron, 2013). Titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, and antimony-doped tin oxide (ATO) filaments are again weaved into the particles because they dissipate the static charge (Kiron, 2013). This antistatic property can widely be used in the field of professional dancing where the fabric needs to “flow” and not cling to the dancers body.
Antimicrobial finishing’s have become very important in protective textiles. Protective suits worn during encounters with hazardous materials often have antimicrobial properties to stop the spread of bacteria. Chemical salts such as monoquaternary ammonium salt are often laced within the molecules to make this property (Fouda, n.d.).
The textile industry can greatly benefit from the use of nanotechnology. Rather than be a standard textile manufacturing company and outsource finishing’s, manufacturers can be vertically integrated with that intermediary and do everything in-house. Nanofinishing allows manufacturers to do all these finishing’s right after the required dying of the greige.
Nanotechnology in Canada is also growing. Canada has a wide research database that is available to organizations to use at their leisure (Industry Canada, 2013). Due to this, Canadian textile manufacturers have more success in meeting standards and getting products to the market for commercialization (Industry Canada, 2013).
Another benefit is reducing waste.
The versatility of nanotechnology may also mean that less raw material is needed to meet the demand for ever-changing fashions
Not only is this a benefit for the manufacturers but for the consumers/environment as well. When a product is more expensive and has multiple uses, end-users are less likely to recycle or throw away clothing items. These items are of higher quality and less likely to degrade (Just-Style, 2007).
Textile manufacturers are not scientists. A certain amount of chemical knowledge is mandatory especially for the dying process, but knowledge to the extent of nanotechnology is past the requirements. Adding this extra step in the textile process means that specialized personnel is needed which will increase the cost of labour (Industry Canada, 2013).
Nanotechnology is relatively expensive due to the specialization of scientists needed, so the cost of production increases, increasing the cost of the final product. This is why products with altered functional performance enhancements are significantly more expensive to the end user (Cave, 2014). This poses as a risk because manufacturing has been typically been taken oversees to Asian countries where costs are significantly lower. Due to the recovery from the Canadian recession, consumers are looking for lower prices. This reverts back to the start of the supply chain where retailers buy from intermediaries/manufacturers who must offer a low price so the end selling price can also be relatively low. This means that local manufacturers dealing with nanotechnology are competing with the lower prices of oversees manufacturers that are not as high quality.
Another challenge is the testing of nanotextiles. Standard testing of general textiles can be used to ensure quality on the grander scale, but specific testing is required to check quality microscopically. Nanoparticles must be closely regulated so that their properties are not altered (Industry Canada, 2013). A final test on the end product must be performed to make sure these properties have not been distorted.
Health and safety of employees is another challenge for these textile manufacturers (Industry Canada, 2013). Chemicals can become airborne, spilled, or not properly disposed of which poses a risk for all employees. Textile manufacturers must already have proper disposal of hazardous waste with the chemicals due from the dying techniques, but each employee must be trained on the new chemical disposal.
Anticipated Future impacts on Business Operations
The future of nanotechnology in textiles is exploding. The reason for this is the unlimited end use for the fabrics. From military to gym clothing, nanotechnology will aid in enhancing performances and activities (O Ecotextiles, 2012). A t-shirt will no longer simply be a t-shirt – it will be a t-shirt that monitors your heart rate; A pillow will no longer simply be a pillow – it will be a pillow that monitors your brainwaves as you sleep (O Ecotextiles, 2012).
The textile industry will have to continue to evolve their knowledge and scientific experimentation with certain textiles. The production of materials will become less automated and more specific. This means that less jobs will be available since a specific required skilled worker will be more valuable than 10 workers along a textile assembly line.
Costs will also continue to soar. Nanotechnology is already expensive as is today. If this continues to evolve and improve, textile businesses will see higher costs. Either they will need to adapt to this change by lowering other costs, or the end-user will take the hit with higher prices.
How Managers Can Facilitate Success
To facilitate success in the textile industry as nanotechnology advances, managers must make sure they are knowledgeable about the supply chain and any changing standards. Evidently, manufacturers must get their nano-object raw materials from other suppliers. The manager of the manufacturing company must make sure the suppliers are following protocol and standards on grading the materials to ensure consistent quality. Quality inspection and characteristic control are some supporting elements to ensure that these materials are consistent (Industry Canada, 2013).
The manager must also be aware of changing standards to health concerns for employees. New ventilation, personal protection, or waste disposal as mention may have to be enhanced to meet the industry standards (Industry Canada, 2013).
Technology and techniques for applying the nanotechnology may also be changing. The knowledge and extensive training in using this equipment will be required for any workers who may come in contact with the equipment, even if they are not using it. The dealing with chemicals is something all employees must understand and have training on in the presence of on-site production.
How does nanotechnology affect the textile industry now and in the future?
Cave, H. (2014, February 14). The Guardian. Retrieved July 26, 2015, from The nanotechnology in your clothes: http://www.theguardian.com/science/small-world/2014/feb/14/nanotechnology-clothes-nanoparticles
Fouda, M. M. (n.d.). Intech. Retrieved July 26, 2015, from Antibacterial Modification of Textiles Using Nanotechnology: http://cdn.intechopen.com/pdfs-wm/39254.pdf
Industry Canada. (2013, July 5). Nanomaterials and their Applications in Textiles—Standards Domestic Standardization for Canadian Manufacturers and Importers and International Standardization Developments. Retrieved July 26, 2015, from Industry Canada: http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/textiles-textiles.nsf/eng/tx03229.html
Industry Canada. (2013, July 5). Textiles. Retrieved July 26, 2015, from Nanomaterials and their Applications in Textiles—Standards Domestic Standardization for Canadian Manufacturers and Importers and International Standardization Developments: http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/textiles-textiles.nsf/eng/tx03232.html
Just-Style. (2007, May 21). Nanotechnology to reduce textile and clothing waste? Retrieved July 26, 2015, from Just-Style: http://www.just-style.com/analysis/nanotechnology-to-reduce-textile-and-clothing-waste_id97379.aspx
Kiron, M. I. (2013, October 18). Application of Nanotechnology in Textile Industry. Retrieved July 26, 2015, from Fibre 2 Fashion: http://www.fibre2fashion.com/industry-article/50/4944/application-of-nanotechnology-in-textile-industry5.asp
Nanowerk. (2015). Nanotechnology Applications. Retrieved July 36, 2015, from Nanowerd: http://www.nanowerk.com/nanotechnology-applications.php
National Nanotechnology Initiative. (2015). What is nanotechnology? Retrieved July 26, 2015, from National Nanotechnology Initiative: http://www.nano.gov/nanotech-101/what/definition
O Ecotextiles. (2012, January 8). O Ecotextiles. Retrieved July 26, 2015, from Nanotechnology in the textile industry: https://oecotextiles.wordpress.com/2012/08/01/nanotechnology-in-the-textile-industry/
Patra, J. K., & Gouda, S. (2014, May 13). Application of nanotechnology in textile engineering: An overview. Retrieved July 26, 2015, from Academic Journals: http://www.academicjournals.org/article/article1379503776_Patra%20and%20Sgouda.pdf
Soutter, W. (2015, July 27). Azo Nano. Retrieved July 27, 2015, from Nanotechnology in clothing: http://www.azonano.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=3129#3