Mills need focus on R&D driven innovations to stay ahead in the market

Mills need focus on R&D driven innovations to stay ahead in the market

In this interview, Dr Prakash Vasudevan, Director, SITRA (The South India Textile Research Association), explains the importance of sustainability while developing new products.

The South India Textile Research Association (SITRA) – sponsored by the industry and supported by the Ministry of Textiles, Government of India (GoI) – is one of the best-equipped textile research organisations in the World and has a full range of sophisticated textile testing instruments and modern machines. In November 2022, SITRA – along with other associations like ATIRA (Ahmedabad Textile Industry’s Research Association), BTRA (Bombay Textile Research Association), and NITRA (Northern India Textile Research Association) – is hosting a conference to promote sustainability in the textile industry.  In this interview, Dr Prakash Vasudevan, Director, SITRA, explains why sustainability needs to be considered while developing new products and the role played by institutes like SITRA to take the Indian textile industry forward.

How has the textile research landscape changed over the last few years? What kinds of research trends do you foresee in the textile sector?

The textile research landscape has been going through a sea change over the last decade across the world. Though a matter of concern, the share of research in conventional textile technologies are on the declining trend excepting by certain textile research institutions who are steadfastly carrying out R&D in these areas for the benefit of the industry.  There are opportunities and liberal funding available to promote research in new areas under technical textiles and green technologies. The Ministry of Textiles, Government of India, has launched a National Mission on Technical Textiles (NMTT), which is funding the R&D activities in identified thrust research areas of technical textiles.

Going forward, more and more research is likely to happen in domain areas that are focused on achievement of SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), smart textiles, and in technical textile segments like agro, automotive, protective, sports and medical textiles. For example, in medical textiles, focused research in advanced wound care products (which can reduce patient stay at hospitals) could gain traction in the coming years. Being the secondlargest populated country, we need to develop indigenous medical devices based on textile materials to offer affordable healthcare to the people of India. 

Which are the focus areas for SITRA at present?

SITRA’s vision 2025 is “To be a world renowned Centre of Excellence for research, development and knowledge based services in current and evolving textile technologies”.

The thrust areas of SITRA are:

  • Promotion of cleaner technologies in textile manufacturing
  • Provide expertise in emerging areas in textiles, especially technical textiles
  • Modify machinery for energy conservation and quality improvement
  • Technology support for forward and backward integration of mills to become integrated units
  • Help the decentralised sector in upgradation of technology
  • Develop human resources for absorbing new technologies     

Sustainability is a buzzword in the textile industry. How is SITRA assisting the textile industry in its sustainability efforts?

During the past 6 to 7 years, SITRA has been working on several projects on sustainable processing of textiles. A few of the sustainable solutions offered by SITRA are:

  1. Salt-free dyeing of cotton materials by cationisation technique, for which a commercialisation agreement has been signed with MAK India Ltd
  2. Decolourisation of textile effluents without sludge formation, for which patent has been granted
  3. Eco baby wear using natural mordants and natural dyes
  4. Eco-clothing by greener reduction process of natural & synthetic indigo dye, for which a commercialisation rights have been given to Sri Kannapiran Mills Ltd (KG Fabriks)
  5. Durable non-fluorinated functional textiles using fumed silica sols
  6. Multifunctional protective cotton fabrics using biopolymer nano composites
  7. Breathable, reusable and oxo-biodegradable PPEs using biocidal polyester.
  8. Durable nano-encapsulated Vitamin E finishes on textile fabrics
  9. Development of methods for cost-effective and improved fastness in dyeing for production of Kovai Kora cotton sarees  
  10. Dyeing of Nylon sutures using Haematin Black (Logwood Extract)

Through various means like publications, seminars and forums like technological conferences, regional seminars, etc, SITRA tries to promote and propagate the importance of sustainability to the industry. One such efforts would be the exhibition on “Circularity and Sustainability in Textile Manufacturing” to be held in November 2022.

In November 2022, SITRA is hosting a conference on sustainability. What is the object of this conference? How will the industry benefit from it?

The 60th Joint Technological Conference (JTC) organised by ATIRA, BTRA, NITRA and SITRA will be from November 11-12, 2022 at SITRA. Along with the JTC, SITRA will also host an exhibition cum seminar on the focal theme of “Circularity & Sustainability in Textile Manufacturing” from November 11-13, 2022.

The object of this exhibition is to provide a platform for mills, companies who are into manufacturing of sustainable textile products, chemicals, etc and certification bodies, solution providers, green energy solution providers, etc to showcase their products / services to target audiences among international buyers, manufacturers, dealers, consultants, R&D institutions. Exhibitors expected to take part in the exhibition include manufacturers/dealers/agents/suppliers of alternate textile solutions; unconventional fibres, yarn and fabric (jute, hemp, sisal, flax, Ramie, etc); sustainable and green processing solutions; effluent treatment plants; green certification for sustainable and eco-friendly solutions; textile testing instruments; textile ancillaries; green energy solutions; recycled textile materials; etc.

An exclusive seminar on the focal theme of circularity and sustainability, held as part of the exhibition, will provide exhibitors an opportunity to showcase and explain about their products and services. Overall, it will be good opportunity for exchange of information, networking, etc. A footfall of about 3000 target audience is expected during this event.

What are the key challenges before textile companies today? How is SITRA helping them to overcome some of these challenges?

The key challenges faced by the textile companies today are:

  • Unprecedented fluctuations in raw material prices
  • The post pandemic geopolitical situation leading to a gloomy economic scenario in the developed world (which import textiles substantially), triggering uncertain market conditions
  • Lack of availability of skilled local manpower and dependence on floating migrant labour force
  • Failure to upgrade to technologies that can lead to efficient manufacture
  • Lack of employable skills among fresh textile diploma/degree holders
  • Growing competition from other developing countries such as Bangladesh, Turkey, Vietnam, etc

SITRA is in the forefront when it comes to offering quality services to the textile industry. SITRA offers following services to the textile industry to tide over the difficult trade scenario:

  • Product development services are being offered to help companies manufacture ‘niche’ products to stay competitive in the market
  • SITRA offers several sustainable solutions to the textile industry; thereby, helping them stay afloat regarding these possibilities to venture for
  • State-of-the-art accredited testing and calibration facilities to cater for their testing/ certification requirements.
  • Troubleshooting and consultancy services of SITRA help them solve technical issues
  • SITRA’s benchmarking exercises are aimed to help the industry in keeping pace with the ever-increasing cost of production and to have targets for labour and machine productivity. “Norms for spinning mills” published by SITRA is widely followed by textile mills.
  • SITRA’s monthly survey on raw material and yarn prices give a wealth of information to the mills in deciding their purchasing pattern of raw materials and to decide their yarn selling price.
  • Various skill development courses are offered by SITRA from the worker to the CEO level of the industry that can help industry to upskill their workforce
  • SITRA has plans to conduct finishing school courses to fill in the missing link between academic institutions and the industry by training fresh diploma/degree holders to make them industry ready.

With market dynamics and demands changing rapidly, what role do you foresee for institutes like SITRA in the coming years?

As the market dynamics change rapidly, institutions like SITRA, by being involved with R&D in cutting-edge technologies, would also play a major role in educating and helping the textile units to follow standard operating procedures, reduce cost, modernise the machines in a judicious manner and effective manpower utilisation, upskilling their workforce, diversify their product range to suit the current demands of the market, etc.

Would you like to give any message to the industry?

The industry today, more than ever, needs to be agile and learn to produce goods with shorter lead times. Those who follow lean management would always have a better control over the cost aspects. The days of ‘status quo’ are over and the mills need to think beyond the horizon and invest in future technologies and focus on R&D driven innovations to stay ahead in the market.

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