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Textile engineering

Functional fabrics

Santista launches products for workwear with nanotechnological properties

eduardo cesarTechnopolo fabric: more absorption and rapid drying of transpiration, besides being antimicrobialeduardo cesar

Nanotechnology is reaching clothes in Brazil. Two fabrics with a nanotechnological finish, intended for making workwear, have recently been put onto the market by Santista Têxtil, headquartered in São Paulo. Called Technopolo and Image, the products are the first launches of the company with the NanoComfort label, which identifies fabrics with the incorporation of nanotechnology and functional properties, such as absorption and rapid drying of transpiration, antimicrobial properties, resistance to traction and to tearing, and easy to clean and to iron. Abroad, fabrics that repel water and dirt and others with microbial properties have now been on the market for some time.

“We have managed to have these results remain in the fabrics for up to 50 to 60 washes, far more than the 20 operations indicated by the technical standards”, says Manoel Areias, Santista Têxtil’s manager of Innovation. Details about obtaining the new materials are not divulged, on account of the exclusivity that guarantees differentiation in the market. “One of the products put into the final stage, fabric finishing, has nanometric particles”, Areias says.

Besides the functional properties, the new products are very soft. Image, a fabric with polyester fiber, has a texture very similar to that of the fabric made with natural wool. It is a great advantage in relation to the common polyester with the same structure of fiber, but without the incorporation of nanotechnology. When a drop is put onto the fabric, it is instantaneously absorbed because of the interaction between the nanotechnological product and the clothes. The water spreads easily and dries in fractions of a second, while in normal polyester the process takes much more time.

Likewise, the fabric quickly absorbs transpiration, an interesting characteristic for the composition of workwear, such as suits, the men’s and women’s sets used by airlines, bus companies and banks, amongst other sectors. Technopolo, made in cotton, has the same properties and applications as Image, but is recommended for making shirts. Another advantage of the nanotechnological fabrics is their drying time when washed. They take 25 minutes to dry, compared with the 35 minutes of the conventional ones. And as they absorb water more quickly, they use less liquid in the washes.

Lotus effect
The researches carried out by Santista Têxtil in the nanotechnological area have also resulted in a third product, totally finalized, but that as not yet arrived on the market. It is the Lotus Effekt, a self-cleaning fabric that, in contact with water, cleans the particles of dirt present in the fabric. “We managed to put this effect onto one side of the fabric only, maintaining the soft touch”, Areias says.

The name is a reference to the lotus flower, a plant that is born in the mud and only opens up on reaching the surface, when its petals are completely clean. A symbol of purity in Buddhism, the flower keeps itself clean because the inclination of its petals, when receiving dewdrops that fall during the night, stay free of microorganisms and dirt. For the time being, there is not yet any launch date forecast for the product, because the company is studying which market niche is most suitable for the innovation.

The investment in products with nanotechnology is the outcome of a project that started four years ago, when the company began to study and to produce modified fabrics with fibers covered with silver nanocompounds and finishes with microcapsules with active hydrating and antimicrobial material. In parallel to the researches in nanotechnology carried out at the company’s Research and Development Center, in Tatuí, in the interior of São Paulo, others are being developed jointly with the São Carlos Physics Institute (IFSC) of the University of São Paulo. In June of last year, the company and the university signed a letter of intent to develop nanostructured additives intended to improve products of the textile industry. These additives range from agents that eliminate the need for ironing to antiallergic and antibacterial products.

The agreement with the university provides for an investment of R$ 94.5 thousand by means of scholarships from the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq), besides R$ 52.5 thousand, over two years. The IFSC’s Polymer Group is researching materials for additives and their interaction with the fibers of the fabrics. The company also has a partnership agreement with the ITV, which stands for he Institute of Textile Technology and Process Engineering Denkendorf, one of Germany’s main textile research and development institutes. Also in 2005, the company had its Industrial Technological Development Program approved by the Ministry of Science and Technology, which makes it possible to enjoy the benefits provided for in the Law on Innovation for purchasing equipment and the contracting of masters and doctors.

Founded in 1929, Santista Têxtil has as its main stockholders Camargo Corrêa and São Paulo Alpargartas and since this March has been part of the Spanish group Tavex. With the merger, the group guaranteed world leadership of the production of cloth for jeans, with a capacity for producing 150 million meters a year of these products and revenue in excess of US$ 500 million a year. Last year, the company’s budget for research and development in the textile area amounted to about R$ 4.5 million, corresponding to 0.5% of the net sales of R$ 900 million. A survey carried out by the company indicated that, on the average of the last few years, 27.4% of the revenue originated from new products.

The bet on nanotechnological fabrics accompanies a tendency that is growing apace, as shown by the figures disclosed by Lux Research, an American company that provides consultancy in market research in the area, during Nanotec Expo 2006, an international nanotechnology fair held in November in São Paulo. In the United States alone, according to Lux, investments in research and development of nanostructured materials and products amount to about US$ 10 billion a year. The worldwide market for products that incorporate nanotechnology had a turnover last year of US$ 32 billion, and the expectations is that it will reach US$ 2.6 trillion in 2014. The estimate is based on a survey of the projects of the 50 largest companies from various economic sectors acting worldwide.