Life Saving Technical Textiles

By Seshadri Ramkumar, Professor, Texas Tech University

(Lubbock, USA, September 2020)—Face masks and vaccine are going to indispensable in the fight against COVID-19.

As the transmittal of the Corona virus occurs by infected persons even without symptoms, face coverings play a vital role in containing the spread.

Recently, there has been a flurry of research activities on the type of face coverings, materials, design, etc. While there is no one perfect model or type of face coverings, it is important that we use them based on the guidelines established by agencies such as the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“As a survivor of the deadly Corona virus infection along with my son, I request all to wear mask and maintain at least 6 feet distance in public places to avoid the virus infection,” stated Mr. Amarashish Phanse of Ahmedabad, India.

I have had the first acquaintance with Mr. Phanse in one of my technical textiles awareness events in India over a decade ago and has maintained close connection with him to develop the field.  Mr. Phase has been in the technical textiles sector, and has been a great support in my research and outreach efforts in the nonwovens and technical textiles field. It is heartening that Mr. Phanse took time to convey the importance of safety measures in fight against the virus, amidst his recovery.

It is becoming clear that even with availability of vaccine, good public health measures such as the use of face coverings may be needed. “There is increasing evidence that masks help prevent people who have COVID-19, including those without symptoms, from spreading SARS-CoV-2 to others,” stated Dr. Robert Redfield, Director of CDC in a recent testimony to a United States’ Senate panel.

Speaking from his own grueling experience in the fight against the virus, Phanse stated, “Having worked with textiles and technical textiles industry closely for over a decade, I can now realize the immense contribution made by its fiber to fashion value chain in coming up with user friendly and functional protective textiles.”

Advanced textiles sector has a renewed purpose now to develop life-saving products at a competitive price. Developed economies such as the United States has to revamp its R & D and manufacturing sectors that will focus on human health and environmental aspects. Research into comfortable face masks with enhanced protection is a tall order and well worth investing. Similarly, cost effective sustainable products that find applications in household items to space crafts will be needed. Indian government has created a National Mission on Technical Textiles to grow the field.

I have been articulating the use of natural fibers like cotton and coarse wool in advanced products for more than two decades. In close association with people like Mr. Phase, developed collaborative programs between India and the United States in the nonwovens and technical textiles sectors that have led to awareness creation and business tie-ups. The current COVID-19 crisis has shined a genuine spotlight on the positive aspects of cotton as a life saver may open-up pathways towards exploring new materials for value-added applications. It has become clear that apart from functionalities, cost of products play a very vital role in the market acceptance of products. So, examining the economic aspects of new products and market surveys to analyze the need have to be undertaken simultaneously while conducting R & D. Next phase of R & D should involve scientists, economists and marketing professionals, towards new product development such as PPE.

Let us practice safety and wish the speedy recovery of all those who have been afflicted by the virus. Mask on and stay positive!