Textiles – the green shield against environmental risks

Textiles can be found everywhere. From wind farms to downhill skis. And the exploration to find new applications is continuous. Vitrulan Composites, a manufacturer of carbon fibre reinforcements and glass fibre, and Dafecor, a pioneer in the field of recycled textiles, are both developing and manufacturing technical textiles for the requirements of the greener industry.

 

Technical textiles are materials with high technical requirements and quality standards. Many of these textiles are disposable for a good reason. They represent a staggering 78 percent of Finland’s textile export.

Markku Iivonen, from Vitrulan Composites, highlights curiosity towards a client’s problem as an important factor of success.

– When needed, we seek advice, for example, from universities, but first we need to understand what is it that we need help for. We conduct experiments, manufacture test batches and further develop products together with our clients, says Iivonen, Plant Manager at Vitrulan, explaining the company operations.

Dafecor’s CEO, Risto Saha, similarly places emphasis on the client’s role in product development.

– You could say that our clients and distributors are practically the ones behind our product development efforts. They may have a unique set of problems, which we all tackle together using our expertise. Our advantage is that we focus on even the smallest things. We are flexible and agile, Saha states.

Textiles tailored for wind farms

Most of Vitrulan Composites’ clientele operate in the wind power industry and account for about 70 percent of sales. Glass and carbon fibre reinforcements have attained a secure position in the business because wind turbine blades are subjected to enormous pressure in the wind. The properties of glass and carbon fibre reinforcements are superior in harsh conditions.

– There is no other material that is both durable, yet flexible. The development of reinforcements has also made it possible to have giant offshore wind farms, Iivonen says.

Investing in wind power is ever-increasing, and Vitrulan achieved a record turnover and operating result in 2023. That success is attributable to the ability to take up clients’ challenges.

– Products tailored according to our customers’ needs account for at least 80 percent of our production. We need to understand the client’s problem and be able to solve it.

Typically, product development projects take months, a year even. The actual product development team consists of three people, but the entire personnel takes part in the development work. The flexible development capabilities have guaranteed that there are clients for the company situated in Mikkeli, eastern Finland.

– We have long-standing customer relationships and we have shown that we can be relied upon when it comes to solving problems. We can address the needs of the client.

 

Preventing environmental damage

Dafecor, located in Janakkala, southern Finland, uses discarded textiles to manufacture products for industrial use, construction and gardens. Throughout the company’s 30-year history, its main items have been products used in the management and handling of environmentally harmful substances.

Dafecor started operating in the circular economy business already in the 1990s. The pioneer company has spent a lot of working hours in training their cooperation network and teaching the business of circular economy. There have been moments of frustration along the way.

– We have been waiting for the day when the criteria for making a choice in the textile industry is defined by environmental responsibility, the origin of the product and the justified ecological sustainability of raw materials. But, all that is just a nice addition after the price, Saha concludes.

Discarded textiles – the raw material Dafecor uses – are waste for its producers. For them the processing incurs costs. The facility in Janakkala ensures that Finnish discarded textiles are used for the circular economy products and that the manufacturing, too, takes place in Finland.

The CEO has reasons to be happy since everything that is produced, sells. The company’s absorbing products have been tested and proven by far as the most effective on the market.

– Our clients are genuinely making a responsible decision by choosing our product. They could actually make even greater use of it in their marketing. Our products are used around the world to prevent environmental damage and offer protection when handling hazardous substances. We are the green shield our industrial customers use.

The prospects for the industry are intriguing

The future of technical textiles is intriguing for both companies. In terms of glass and carbon fibre reinforcements, there is huge potential in the automotive industry, which is undergoing a significant shift. An electric car weighs approximately 1.5 times the weight of a combustion engine car, but by making electric vehicles lighter you could improve their driving range.

– We have done tests, for example, with the carbon fibre layers of an electric motor, but there are so many directions to go on from here. It is not yet known whether car manufacturers will end up using technical textiles, Markku Iivonen says.

When it comes to markets, Vitrulan Composites finds the US interesting because the country is shifting gears in the green transition.

– For us, acquiring new clients is mostly about us providing samples for different needs. The client is not even always capable of describing their issues so we try something and take the development further.

According to Dafecor’s CEO Risto Saha, there is vast untapped potential in the domestic market. He is expecting new innovations in textile fibres.

– The fact of the matter is that grey recycled textile fibre can be produced, for example, in Asia. It is there much more cost-effective than in Finland. We, too, have received some quite interesting ideas throughout the years. The problem, though, is that there are no buyers. For a small company, developing a new product with no buyer in mind, is very risky, so we have decided to concentrate on our core business, he says.

In the future Saha hopes to see textile fibres gain a more solid standing as part of clothing manufacture paving the way for a truly more sustainable textile and fashion industry.

– It remains to be seen what kind of costs will the use of recycled textile in clothing manufacture generate. The price is still important to customers.

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