Research and development in the Canadian textile industry: 2008-2012

Introduction

Textiles are present everywhere in daily life. With the wide range of innovative textiles being developed and introduced today, there is an increased recognition of the importance of textiles as building block materials for new product development. Textiles are an important component of the field of research termed "material sciences." This report provides a snapshot of the textiles research and development (R&D) community in Canada between the years 2008 and 2012.

The primary purpose of the study was to take stock of textile-related R&D being conducted in the academic community, research institutions and textile companies in Canada. Research in textiles spans the process of transformation from raw materials (fibres and filaments) to intermediate goods (fabrics in non-woven, woven or knitted forms), and finally, to finished goods (textile products for a variety of end uses).  The research outputs enable government and private sector to engineer products for very specific end uses (e.g., military, automotive, aerospace). Ultimately, success in developing new products contributes to the economy and quality of life of citizens. Therefore, it is worthwhile to pay attention to the textile innovations accomplished by Canadian institutions so that policy-makers can make informed decisions as they allocate resources to investments that create innovations that benefit Canada.

Methodology

A survey was designed to identify the range of textiles research in universities, non-profit research centres and the private sector. Further, the dollar amounts awarded to researchers and the sources of funding were identified. The presence of R&D collaborations between textiles researchers and those in other domains was also a goal of the study. And, finally, evidence of commercially successful innovative textiles from Canadian companies was collected.

A unique characteristic of the textiles research community in Canada is that it is relatively small compared to other industries. In order to obtain a complete picture, three data collection approaches were taken. The first was to gather data on the research activities of a pool of researchers who were known to be active in textiles research. The second approach was to search Scopus (an internationally reputable abstract and citation database of peer-reviewed literature covering a wide range of sciences) for publications by these researchers. Finally, a scan of The Textile Journal, Canada's foremost textile-related industry publication, was conducted to gather articles that pertain to novel textile technologies by Canadian firms. To obtain data on funding sources and amounts, researchers' response and records from the online database provided by Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) was used.

Thirty-four researchers were initially identified as actively pursuing textile-related research, of which data was collected for 24. Of those 24, 14 actively responded to requests for details on their textiles-focused research. Two hundred and twenty-two (222) articles were published by the 24 researchers from 2008 to 2012.

Results

End uses and technical attributes of the textiles researched

From 2008 to 2012, a variety of technical textiles was the focus of the researchers' efforts. These include, but are not limited to, electro or smart textiles, nano-enabled textiles, bio-based textiles, composites, textiles as drug delivery agent, and textiles with antibacterial or fire resistant properties.

Nature of the R&D being conducted (new product, manufacturing enhancement or basic research)

A large majority of the 14 respondents to the questionnaire reported being engaged in either confidential or applied research. Over 60 percent of the respondents reported working on textiles that would result in new products. Less than 50 percent engaged in basic research. Even fewer engaged in research that contributed to enhancing manufacturing processes.

Regional focus

Textiles and related materials research was being undertaken in many provinces with Quebec as the most active. The research in Quebec focused on technical textiles for many sectors—automobile, military, civil engineering and protection. These technical textiles were rendered through lamination, woven, nonwoven or composite technologies. There was an emerging trend towards developing fibres from materials of plant or marine origins. The research conducted by scientists in Ontario was driven by the demands in the transportation sector. The cluster of researchers in Manitoba focused on two areas: the first being textiles or related materials for healthcare or medical end uses; the second was the processing of hemp. Alberta established a reputation for its research in protective materials for extreme heat environments such as flash fire and steam. British Columbia's focus was gathering to support composites research.

Research collaborations

The multidisciplinary nature of textile science research was evident because researchers reported collaborating with many disciplines—most frequently with engineering. Chemical engineering or chemistry collaborations topped the list, followed by mechanical engineering, biological sciences, medicine and electrical engineering. 

Examples of collaborative research units in Canada that have been successful in developing innovations in textiles and related materials are:

  1. The CTT Group in Quebec
  2. The Composites Innovation Centre in Manitoba
  3. The Composites Research Network in British Columbia
  4. The Protective Clothing and Equipment Research Facility in Edmonton

Funding sources

From 2008 to 2012, the 24 researchers, collectively, received research funding amounting to over $13 million from the federal and provincial governments, institutions or the private sector. The Government of Canada was the largest contributor, with NSERC as the largest single contributor, followed by the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), and the National Research Council (NRC). Researchers have been successful in seeking funding from 13 NSERC programs, which enabled them to engage in individual pursuits as well as for research that involved collaboration with others. There were three research chairs that were catalytic in propelling textiles research in specific directions: composites, geotextiles and technical textiles.

Textile innovations by Canadian firms

A scan of articles in The Textile Journal from 2008 to 2012 showed that the textile industry has been actively pursuing innovations in materials using woven, nonwoven, lamination or composite technologies for end uses in many markets. These markets include: protective end uses, military, healthcare, geotechnical, transportation, home and civil engineering. These companies reported numerous innovations, many of which were driven by the need to enhance the protective attributes of textiles for very specific end uses or client demands. An emerging area of innovation lies in responding to environmental issues. One company is pursuing technologies that enable textiles to absorb and re-distribute solar energy to other parts of the home. Another company has been successful in producing laminated materials that are free of hazardous substances.

Conclusion

This report has clearly revealed many achievements in textiles and related materials in Canadian research institutions. Fruitful collaborations are outcomes of sharing of knowledge, managing boundaries and human relations. Many researchers have been successful in seeking research grants that involved collaboration between universities and industrial partners. The innovative product development that is needed to drive economic success in knowledge intensive industries important to Canada is dependant on such collaborative R&D partnerships.

This study revealed the following snapshot of the Canadian textile industry: a strong presence of collaborative research efforts in the textile research community; $13 million in government funding for textiles R&D; 222 published articles and research that pertains to a wide range of textile attributes and end uses; and companies introducing novel textile technologies into the market. The findings reveal that textiles material sciences are an important field and deserves attention for  future innovations that could power economic growth in Canada.


Note:
This work was carried out by the Institute of Textile Science of Canada (ITS), and was funded by Industry Canada.

The Institute of Textile Science is a Canadian non-profit organization established in 1956. Its mission is to promote textiles research in Canada. The ITS membership comprises of Canadian constituents from the textile industry, the academic community, government, and textile or materials research centres. It has over 50 members engaging in a wide range of research, such as: textiles for protection against heat, chemical agents, or bacteria; nanofabrication; three-dimensional fabrics; intelligent wearable systems; and the development of equipment and standards for measuring specific properties. Many ITS members' innovations have been commercialized or are being used for health, medical, protective, or defense purposes. 

www.textilescience.ca

Industry Canada is a Government of Canada department with the mission to foster a growing, competitive, knowledge-based Canadian economy.

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