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Better, faster, but completely differently - mapping out the impact of AI

Adrian Wilson

Amelioration will result in sustainable industrialisation within the decade.

29th April 2024

Adrian Wilson
 |  Frankfurt, Germany

Transport/​Aerospace, Clothing/​Footwear

The recycling of post-consumer waste will act as the trigger for significantly accelerating the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in textiles manufacturing.

This observation was made by Professor Ingo Rollwagen of Hochschule Fresenius – a much sought-after advisor to both brands and legislators – during the opening press conference of the Techtextil and Texprocess 2024 exhibitions in Frankfurt on April 23rd.

AI is inherently changing the rules of manufacturing by introducing increased automation on the basis of more data management and collection he said, citing examples of new solutions in the field from companies including Freudenberg, Karl Mayer, Toray and Trützschler being introduced within the two Frankfurt shows.

Impact stages

Rollwagen spoke of the anticipated dynamic stages of AI’s impact in the next ten years, beginning with automation and its acceleration which is happening now, and will be greatly amplified by the needs of the recycling industry for machine vision solutions for sorting post-consumer textile waste.

“These will turn our trash into a treasure trove,” he said. “Reusing materials much more sustainably will then bring about a resilience from industries providing their own resources. What will then follow will be amelioration – the ability to do things not only better and faster, but completely differently.”

The resilience provided by AI, he said, would enable manufacturers to be much better able to meet United Nations sustainable development goals (SDGs) and generally drive sustainable industrialisation.


Speaking from the front line was Chloé Salmon Legagneur, director of CETIA, the French R&D centre that is heavily involved in exploiting automation, robotics and AI to make recycling operations competitive.

She spoke of the push to use today’s available technologies to keep more and more waste fibres in circulation.

“The big challenges are in sorting and dismantling and at present garments are not generally made with recycling in mind so we have to take them as they are put on the market,” she said. “AI tools are very useful in detecting the composition of materials. In fact, there are so many blends and fibre mixes that only AI can do this, learning from an ever-growing database.”

In terms of getting to industrial scale with such technologies, Elgar Straub, managing director of textile care, fabric and leather technologies at the VDMA, said that while currently in the early stages, development will be incredibly fast.

Pictured left to right are Olaf Schmidt, Chloé Salmon Legagneur, moderator Zackes Brustik, Ingo Rollwagen and Elgar Straub. © A.Wilson

“We can now manage a lot of data in a very short time and computers are getting better and better, so applications are growing day to day,” he said.

“The industry in Europe needs AI to both be more sustainable and faster to market,” added Olaf Schmidt, vice president of textiles and textile technologies for show organiser Messe Frankfurt. “There are uncertainties and reservations about AI and Techtextil and Texprocess are both important platforms for knowledge transfer and demonstrating the benefits.”

It was observed that the upcoming EU regulation on textile waste is playing a large role and that brands had made important commitments to take some recycled materials, but the challenge now is to organise the value chain to deal with huge volumes of textile waste, and to do it competitively.

“At present, a number of recyclers are expecting more and more feedstock as part of their growth strategies, but the sorting technology is not advanced enough and the danger is that such recyclers may go out of business without the raw materials,” Salmon Legagneur said.

Faster fashion

Asked by a member of the audience if AI wasn’t having a very negative effect by simply enabling the emergence of even faster fast fashion companies who were exploiting it to flood the market with even cheaper garments, Rollwagen said the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) would be the key to slowing down such companies.

“It’s true that at the moment we are seeing an abundance of very fast and cheap garments as a result of the acceleration of automation, but the new IFRS standards will not only apply to financial materiality, but sustainable materiality too, and this is important,” he said. “Even in China we see glimpses of the amelioration I spoke about and a move to not just doing everything faster, but better too.”

Elgar Straub added that the individualisation of products which is now at an advanced stage would see an eventual move away from fast fashion, as consumers looked to much more personalised products.

Record year

The Techtextil and Texprocess shows attracted some 1,700 exhibitors from 53 countries, and drew 38,000 visitors from 102 countries to Frankfurt, an increase of 29% on the last event in 2022.

In his opening address, Detlef Braun, member of the executive board at Messe Frankfurt, said that as a result of Covid-19 and its aftermath, his organisation cancelled 1,200 exhibitions and lost approaching 80% of its turnover in that time.

Happily, it is now bouncing back and anticipating a record year in 2024.

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