Integration of New Technology in the Textile Industry

Steve Madsen, CTO, Tersus Solutions, CO2 Nexus
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Steve Madsen, CTO, Tersus Solutions, CO2 Nexus

Disruption. The word elicits red flags and rolled eyes in the business world. The same word that is used by a company to excite investors and marketing people becomes the word used by the same company’s potential customers to tell them “No thanks. Too disruptive for our company.” Disruptive becomes synonymous with difficult, unwieldy, and risky, when in reality, it is just a fancy word for change, and we all know, change is inevitable.

“If disruptive steps don’t generate a profit at some point it will fail. The change has to either cut costs or improve garment quality, justifying an increase in selling price to the consumer”

The textile industry is facing some difficult issues. Water availability and quality is a growing risk for textile manufacturers. While currently modest on average, wastewater and effluent discharge control and costs are on the rise. Water costs are increasing. As living standards continue to improve in the countries that are currently the hubs of textile manufacturing so will demands for better use of natural resources. Government regulation will increase costs as environmental issues are addressed. Legislation to be introduced in China in 2015 in regards to wastewater has the potential to dramatically change the economics of textile dyeing and finishing. Lastly, consumer attitudes towards fashion, quality and sustainability will be a defining factor in the marketplace. A recent European study shows that 59 percent of consumers would pay more for sustainable garments.

Which makes me Ponder:

Should sustainability ultimately cost more? Removing the marketing argument, true sustainability should, by definition, cost less in the long run than unsustainable practices. True sustainability across the board, can’t currently be done. A true sustainable infrastructure is not in place for energy and transportation of garments. In some cases technology is not mature enough to compete in the marketplace. Addressing true sustainability in any industry becomes a daunting project. Progress has to be made one step at a time with an eye to how these steps will fit into the overall goal of true sustainability.

These incremental, disruptive steps have to make simple business sense. If it can’t or won’t generate a profit at some point it will fail. The change has to either cut costs or improve garment quality to the point of being able to justify an increase in selling price to the consumer. Lastly, infrastructure has to be in place to support and supply the new technology.

CO2 Nexus via our Tersus platform has a goal of eliminating water in the processing of textiles using liquid CO2 as the cleaning solvent in place of water. CO2 is inexhaustible, inexpensive, and has a built in infrastructure to support it. The CO2 used by the Tersus platform is captured from industrial manufacturing processes like ammonia production. The CO2 is then scrubbed and used for everything from carbonating beverages

to industrial welding processes, to respirational therapy. We use a beverage grade CO2 in our system. We capture over 98 percent of the CO2 used in each cycle, clean it and reuse it for the next cycle. All the waste products are caught onboard so they can be repurposed or disposed of properly. This eliminates any harmful discharge going down the wastestream.

Implementation of a vastly different tech­nology, such as ours, into an existing opera­tion requires that many things line up.

A high value problem has to be solved, or, a sellable improvement to the quality of the product has to happen due the technol­ogy. In our case examples could be new wastewater restrictions, water quality is­sues, or the ability to improve the perfor­mance of the garment through one of our processes.

A virtual partnership must be formed between the technology provider and the customer. All the true costs of the current method of processing must be taken into consideration so that a real cost comparison can be made in evaluating the new technology. This requires both the technology provider, and the customer to be very open about their business operations and costs. Many costs incurred in current established processing operations tend to be taken for granted in these evaluations. Often the existing risks are not taken into account. Without these costs a true evaluation of the new technology to old is impossible.

The integration of the technol­ogy has to be as seamless as pos­sible. A complete solution has to be provided to the customer. Ongoing support has to be easy, responsive, efficient and complete. Most people have an aversion to change, and a per­son that has been do­ing an operation in the same way for the last 20 years will look for any excuse not to change. You have to win the person on the floor doing the operations as much as the decision makers. The operators are the ones that can make or break you. All the while you must continue to identify different areas of the operation, or industry that the technology can improve. Success ultimately comes from good, old fashion customer service and performance.

Committing to a new technology is a tough sell to those with an established in­frastructure. Most companies want to take a wait and see attitude. Others see the op­portunity and understand the risks of their current situation. Consolidation of the risk by major brand players in the industry is achievable. To do so would lessen both their costs, and accelerate further sustain­able practices like textile recycling, gar­ment maintenance and continued quality performance of technical textile through the garments operational life. The mod­el exists for this as a profit center for the brand apparel industry, but would require cooperation between competing brands. Technology will prevail, and the industry will respond once they accept their true costs and understand the totality of all the risks. Or, when they realize just how much money they are currently leaving on the table.

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