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Global markets for smart fabrics and interactive textiles, 2nd quarter 2008
published in Issue 73, 2nd quarter 2008
The market for smart fabrics and interactive textiles (SFITs) is likely to exceed US$640 mn by the end of 2008. This figure is well in excess of the figure of US$485 mn predicted in our previous report, published in 2005. Moreover, the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 18% which we forecast for 2004-08 has, in the event, turned out to be as high as 27%.
The bulk of turnover in SFITs is generated in the production of intermediate components, or SFIT modules—a sector involved in combining base electronic components into a textile substrate. However, this sector is growing by a relatively slow 19% per annum whereas finished SFIT-based textiles are growing by 76% per annum.
The biggest single end use for SFITs continues to be heated automotive seating. But other applications are expected to catch up and overtake it, particularly textiles for physiological sensing. Demand for SFITs for military use also continues to be strong.
One of the most important technical developments in SFITs has been the replacement of metallic fibres with conductive polymers—such as polypyrrole and polyaniline. In addition, there have been important developments in fibres coated with conductive metals. A further area of major promise is the use of nanotechnology, including carbon nanotubes—provided concerns over potential health hazards can be resolved.
The SFIT industry is characterised by the presence of a large number of relatively small companies. This is a consequence of the diversity of technical expertise involved and the wide variety of developments which have emerged. In this business environment, smaller enterprises are able to occupy profitable technological niches. Larger companies, by contrast, have been reluctant to enter the SFIT market. The industry is also characterised by strategic alliances and partnerships—despite low levels of competition. These have been seen as solutions to problems arising from limited production capacities and high costs of research and marketing.
For the future, a number of issues will need to be addressed as the industry develops. One is the lack of industry standards. Another is the need for more professional marketing. Of particular importance is the need to bring down the cost of manufacture—and hence selling prices.
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