Transportation Textile: Characteristics and Application

Last Updated on 27/04/2022

Transportation Textile:
Transportation is the largest user of technical textiles. It is also called automotive textile or mobiltech. Mobiltech segment of technical textiles is used in the construction of automobiles, railways, ships, aircraft and space craft etc. It is about 23% of the total technical textiles market. However, in India its share is 7% in technical textile market. Textiles provide a means of decoration and a warm soft touch to surfaces that are necessary features for human well being and comfort, but textiles are also essential components of the more functional parts of all road vehicles, trains, aircraft and sea vessels.

Textiles in transportation are classed as technical because of the very high performance specifications and special properties required. Seat coverings, for example, are not easily removable for cleaning and indeed in automobiles they are fixed in place and must last the lifetime of the car without ever being put in a washing machine. In trains, aircraft and passenger vessels they are exposed to much more rigorous use than domestic furniture. In addition they have to withstand much higher exposure to daylight and damaging ultraviolet radiation (UV) and because they are for public use they must satisfy stringent safety requirements such as flame retardancy.

transportation textile
Figure 2: Textiles in transportation

In more functional applications, textiles are used in articles as diverse as tyres, heater hoses, battery separators, brake and clutch linings, air filters, parts of the suspension, gears, drive belts, gaskets and crash helmets. They are present in all forms of transport and, apart from tyres, are in applications of which the non-technical person is not even aware.

Fiber Requirements in Transportation Textile:
For seat coverings the main technical requirements are resistance to sunlight (both color fading and fabric degradation by UV), abrasion resistance1–5 and, for public transport vehicles, reduced flammability. Seats frequently get damp from contact with wet clothing and, in the case of seats in public transport, subject to abuse by vandals and other irresponsible individuals. The fabrics need to be resistant to mildew, hard wearing and strong with high tear strength. Soil resistance and easy cleanability are also necessary. Composite materials are widely used transportation textile.

Characteristics of Transportation Textile:

Resistance to sunlight and UV degradation:
Resistance to sunlight is perhaps the most important property a fabric must have. Choice of the wrong fabric can lead to breakdown of the seat cover within weeks, depending on the intensity and spectral distribution of the sunlight. Spectral distribution of sunlight varies with geographical location, cloud cover and even the time of day.

Abrasion resistance:
Seating fabric needs to be of the highest standard of abrasion resistance. Only polyester, nylon and polypropylene are generally acceptable, although wool is used in some more expensive vehicles because of its aesthetics and comfort. Wool has other specialist properties such as non-melting and reduced flammability which, as will be seen, make it suitable for aircraft seats. Fabric abrasion is influenced by yarn thickness, texture, cross-section and whether spun or continuous filament.

Reduced flammability:
Reduced flammability testing has become much more sophisticated as the mechanisms of fire disasters and the causes of fatalities are analyzed. Thus it is now important to test for toxicity of smoke generated and its effect on visibility as well as for ignitability and rate of propagation. Heat generated has also been identified as important and tests have been developed to measure this. Testing of whole assemblies such as seats are now carried out in addition to testing of the individual components.

Application of Transportation Textile:
Presently there are more than 25 different textile applications in the automotive industry, ranging from tire cord to filter cloth and interior trim. The situation is similar in the aircraft industry and in shipbuilding.

automotive textile
Figure 2: Automotive textile

In each car, there are 7 to 8 kg of textiles, of which the largest part is seat covers (about 3 kg; 5 to 8 m2); 0.8 kg of this is for safety belts, and the rest is from floor coverings, inside roof linings, door covers, hat rack, filters, and materials for sound insulation.

Uses of textile in transportation:

  1. Upholstery, car interior, carpets
  2. Truck covers (PVCcoated PES fabrics),
  3. Tires, car elements, filters,
  4. Car trunk coverings (often needle felts),
  5. Heat, cable & sound insulation,
  6. Non-wovens for cabin air filtration (also covered in Indutech)
  7. Safety systems – airbags, seat belts
  8. Protective covers for land crafts, boats, aircrafts
  9. Sailcloth, inflatable boats
  10. Envelopes of balloons
  11. Special equipment for military vehicles,
  12. Usage in railway
  13. parachutes,
  14. Nylon tyre cord,
  15. Automotive carpets,
  16. Headliners,
  17. Insulation felts,
  18. Sun blinds,
  19. Helmets,
  20. Seat upholstery,
  21. Airline disposables,
  22. Aircraft upholstery,
  23. Webbings for
  24. Aircrafts, etc.

Some of these textiles are visible while the others are invisible components or concealed.

Visible components: upholstery, carpets, seat belts, headliners etc.

Concealed components: harness (NVH) components, tyre cords, liners, hoses, belts, airbags, air and fuel filters, noise and vibration dampening and body panel reinforcement in composites etc.

Most important and widely used transportation textiles are seat covers and safety belts. Those are described below.

Seat covers:
More than 250 million cars are registered in the US (2007), and approximately 20 million cars are scraped every year. Hence, we have around 60,000 tons of seat covers annually. The fibers used for these covers are polyester (more than 55%), polyamide and mixtures of staple fibers (24%), and also polyacrylonitrile fibers (14%). The problem in recycling car seat covers is that they are composite upholsteries (the covering is PUR foam and the inner fabric is warp-knitted). Hence, the fabric is inseparably connected to the PUR foam (flame retardant). Therefore, a material recycling is impossible. Recycling is possible only by incineration (“thermal recycling”).

As a result, all major car producers offer seat covers made of spacer fabrics (knits, wovens) that can be sorted and thus easily recycled.

Safety belts:
In each car, there is approximately 0.8 kg (= 500 tons/year) of safety belts that consist of polyester (before 1970 or in Eastern Europe they consisted or still consist of polyamide). They can be separated from the car by simple cutting. This is a basic condition for effective recycling (purity of class). An analysis of showed that a complete recycling is possible. But the recycled granule is already more expensive than the basic material without the working steps of cutting and collecting. The single working steps are detaching, collecting, sorting out of damaged or wrong pieces, washing, cutting into pieces, crushing, agglomerating, and pressing.


  1. Handbook of Technical Textiles Edited by A R Horrocks and S C Anand
  2. Textile Technology: An Introduction, Second Edition  by Thomas Gries, Dieter Veit, and Burkhard Wulfhorst
  3. Textile Engineering-An Introduction Edited by Yasir Nawab
  4. Agro Textiles and Its Applications by Grace Annapoorani

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