Groz-Beckert KG

Newsletter 4 | 2013

From tents to high-tech roofs –
the textile construction revolution is picking up speed

Textile construction has always been closely associated with human history. It all started with simple tents made from woven natural fibers, and ever since artificial fiber was developed the sector has rapidly become important once more. Since 1990 the number of textile structures in the world has almost tripled. The combination of sophisticated, construction-suitable filaments, the nonwovens created from them, and applications in the building sector is constantly expanding the potential of textile construction. 

Textiles paved the way for architecture

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Building shapes that differ from the traditional tent can now be properly realized thanks to today's new fibers.

A revolution is currently under way in the construction sector. The requirements placed on the shapes, properties and potential of today's buildings are becoming ever more stringent, and can frequently be fulfilled with innovations from the textile industry. Thanks to textiles and entirely new fibers, the classic construction materials wood, stone, concrete and steel can be ideally reinforced – in order to realize building projects that would have been unfeasible only a few years ago because the materials needed for their construction did not yet exist.

Fiber technology is revolutionizing construction

Textile construction has picked up a great deal of speed over the past few decades, and this is largely due to fiber technology. Since time immemorial, the tent has been a means of protection from the weather, yet the limits to this kind of protection have always been set by the availability of long-lasting fibers for fabrics or nonwovens. Plant or wool fibers are not resistant enough against tensile forces or the effects of weather, and cannot be used to make long-lasting structures. Low water resistance and also sensitivity to natural ultraviolet radiation also pose additional problems here.

The balance between the structural strength and the weight of a fiber has always imposed a natural limit on textile construction potential: after all, pitching a tent requires enough sturdy poles and taut lines. To design large tents made from natural fiber to be secure enough for securing with ropes, the strength of the fabric has to be reinforced – but this involves adding more weight and thus more of a load on the bearing construction.

Lightweight and more stable

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Roof of the Khalifa Stadium in Doha, Qatar
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Sun protection outside the Khalifa Stadium
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The stadium in Cape Town, South Africa

It was only with the development of suitable synthetic fibers with higher tensile strength and lower weights that the construction of buildings with decisive textile elements first became a feasible prospect. Imposing constructions such as roofs made from high-tech membranes for football stadiums are common examples today. The service life of such membranes is still limited, however: They can resist the weather for around 30 years, but then they have to be replaced.

In the high-quality construction sector, materials such as woven fiberglass with a PTFE coating are used – this protective layer of polytetrafluorethylene is more commonly known as Teflon. Silicon coatings are also used to protect the fibers. Less complex membranes usually consist of polyester with a PVC coating.

Durable nonwovens on the advance

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Textile membrane elements at Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok, Thailand
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Tent roofs at Denver International Airport, Colorado, USA

In recent years fabrics have played a major role in the construction sector, but recently the importance of nonwovens has also been increasing. So-called "durable nonwovens" are benefiting from the latest developments in fiber research. Islands-in-the-Sea fibers, processed mechanically via hydroentanglement, needling or a combination of the two, are given properties that make them ideal for use as, say, a tent material. This type of tent nonwoven is already being used by the military. As an alternative to fabric, nonwovens made from Islands-in-the-Sea fibers also have great potential in the lightweight construction of industrial halls. 

Boom in nonwovens for buildings

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Insulation layer made from nonwovens, between two wall layers
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Modern nonwovens construction materials can be used and processed in all kinds of ways.

Alongside the future application of durable nonwovens, nonwovens in general are already creating all kinds of possibilities in the textile construction sector. In fact the construction industry is already the second most important sales market for nonwovens after cloths for wiping. The big sellers here are polyester nonwovens: they replace the foaming of cavities in old and new buildings and are ideal materials for keeping to ever stricter heat-insulation and soundproofing guidelines. This is because they can be processed easily and quickly, they adapt easily to contours, they have good insulating properties, they replace plaster, and they can also bridge cracks and fissures. The big advantage of polyester nonwovens is their resistance to environmental influences and their consequences – for instance, problems caused by mold and mildew. They are also very easy to recycle.

Smart textiles are the future of architecture

Smart textiles are the future in the construction sector – one example is LED carpets and wall coverings. On a nonwoven substrate...
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... this innovation enables walls to be papered with light. Photos: Architects Paper

The use of nonwovens as an insulation material or as sturdy and yet lightweight solutions for roofing applications is just one aspect of the huge potential of today's construction textiles. A further promising facet of textile construction is the use of so-called "smart textiles". Integrated conductive strips that react to light, mechanical load or moisture ingress open up all kinds of possibilities for the future. Safety aspects can be taken as much into consideration here as comfort requirements. 

Here are some examples of common applications for nonwovens today in the textile construction sector:

Product 

Application

Product composition

Sector

Where

Properties

1

Army tent

Hydroentangled nonwoven
PA microfibers

Military

Outside, visible

Tearproof, flame-resistant, breathable, water-resistant

 

2

Ramparts for military purposes; walls for flood and erosion protection

Needled staple fiber nonwoven
200 - 400 gsm

Military and civilian use

Outside, visible

Tearproof, dimensionally stable, weather-resistant, UV-resistant, corrosion-resistant

 

3

Insulation of walls in structures, prevention of moisture penetration and mold

Three-layer composite made from PP fibers, cover layers needled; product weight 100 – 1,500 gsm

Panels, walls

Outside, invisible

High permeability, easy handling, rot-proof, resistant against natural substances and organisms

4

Sarking membranes, underlays, facade membranes and vapour checks

100 - 200 gsm

 Roof

Intermediate, invisible

UV-resistant, vapor-permeable, water-bearing, resistant to aging

5

 Insulation nonwoven

Thermally-bound insulation nonwoven, consisting of 100% polyester fibers; volumetric weights of 15, 20 and 40 kg/m3

 Panels, walls

Inside, invisible

Thermal insulation properties, excellent acoustic properties

6

Bitumen roofing membranes

PET spun nonwoven, needled and thermally fixed

Roof

Intermediate, invisible

Moisture barrier but air-permeable; resistant to mold and mildew; form- and temperature-stable, fatigue-resistant, shock-resistant, cut-resistant

 

7

Renovation nonwoven for inside and outside

Fine Denier polyester spun nonwoven, fine fiber: 1 - 4 dtex, weight: 25 - 200 gsm

Panels, walls

Inside and outside, invisible 

Unbreakable, unbendable, pleasant, skin-friendly

8

Textile concept for curtains, shutters; blinds for interior sun protection

Combination of needling and hydroentanglement, microfibers (PA/PET) 

 Interior fixtures

Inside, visible

High UV protection, soundproofing properties, simple preparation, no fraying, washable

9

PVC-free wallpapers

Combination of needling and hydroentanglement, microfibers (PA/PET) 

Interior fixtures

Inside, visible

Abrasion-resistant, tension-resistant, dirt-resistant, brilliant colors, high-resolution quality thanks to compatibility with numerous printing technologies, conceals uneven wall areas

 

10

Cover webs for painters

Multiply needled thermally fixed recyclable fiber nonwoven integrated with melt fibers, with PE new foil mounted on the entire surface. Approx. 300 gsm

Aids

Inside, visible 

Abrasion-resistant, safe, highly absorbent, solvent-resistant, Made in Germany 

11

Venetian blinds made from flax fibers, based on nonwovens

Flax fibers, hydroentangled

Interior fixtures

Inside, visible 

Natural UV resistance, positive ecobalance, very good cooling effect

12

Textile outdoor wallpapers for permanent facade renovation, sound absorption and heat protection

Needled recyclable fibers

Panels, walls

Outside, visible

Weather and temperature resistant, low heat conductivity, highly flame-resistant, suitable for allergy sufferers because no problems caused by moths, household dust mites or mildew

 

13

Protective, filtering and draining functions

Needled PE fibers, 150 - 2000 gsm, roll material

Terraces, balconies, ceilings, tunnels

Outside, invisible 

Rot-resistant, resistant to aging, insensitive to moisture, chemical-resistant, no mildew formation