PolyU-patented Yarn Production Technology Helps Improve Yarn Quality
Intellectual Property Trading Opens up a World of Applications
As production costs in the Mainland continue to rise, manufacturers are increasingly looking to tighten their purse strings. And the textile industry is no different. Due to cost considerations, many Mainland textile factories have resorted to cheaper synthetic fibres in producing their fabrics in recent years. Nevertheless, the consumers’ lasting preference for cotton clothing has left the industry searching constantly for an answer. The Nu-Torque cotton yarn production technology, pioneered by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), helps improve yarn productivity while also reducing energy consumption. The manufacturing process is eco-friendly, and the new technique leads to improved fabric texture, making cotton fabrics as smooth to the touch as their lush cashmere counterparts. A wide array of washed effects, which includes variations in colour shades, can be achieved on Nu-Torque knitted denim fabrics. Through non-exclusive licensing, PolyU ensured that the technology can be widely adopted in the textile industry.
Softer fabric Up to 40% increase in yarn productivity
Despite being a practice in place for over 200 years, yarns produced by conventional techniques still suffer from the problem of high residual torque and are prone to twisting and intertwining. Chemical fixatives must be added to straighten them out and prevent the fabric from distortions. On the other hand, yarns with fewer twists generally have low residual torques, as well as a soft touch and high yields, but are relatively low in strength and break easily. As such, it is difficult for further processing.
PolyU’s Institute of Textiles and Clothing has been developing the Nu-Torque technology since 1996 with the goal of improving yarn quality. “Nu-Torque makes use of principles in physics to improve yarn structure, which in turn reduces the number of twists and enhances strength. The results are straighter, less distorted yarns that are more resistant to tearing. Thanks to the lower degree of twisting, less cotton is required which means yarn productivity is 20 to 40% higher than that of the traditional approach. Moreover, yarns woven together using this new technology produce cotton garments which feel extra light, with a silky-smooth surface. The amount of dye needed is also less, and the fabric created is softer and more comfortable. In addition, the tougher yarns enhance the garments’ anti-pilling properties,” says Prof. Xiao-ming Tao, Chair Professor of the Institute of Textiles and Clothing, PolyU.
With subsequent support from organizations such as the Research Grants Council, Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel, and Innovation and Technology Commission, the Institute is able to constantly refine a technology that is now in its fifth incarnation. With the innovation comes better product quality and lower energy use, as the production process consumes 20 to 40% less electricity compared with the past. No sewage or pollutant gases are generated either, in line with the principles of green manufacturing. Another advantage of the Nu-Torque technology is convenience: it can be applied simply by adding a device to existing spinning machines. In other words, manufacturers do not have to throw away old machines or invest heavily on new ones.
Seal of trust from manufacturers in the Mainland, Taiwan and Australia
Having secured patents for the Nu-Torque technology in China and U.S., PolyU has opted for a non-exclusive licence to allow more textile producers to gain access to the innovation. The technology has since been transferred to manufacturers in the Mainland, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Australia and different countries in Southeast Asia. As of now, more than 10 textile factories are officially licensed to use Nu-Torque in their production processes. The garments produced have been exported to markets in Europe, America and Japan, and the clientele includes a prominent Japanese apparel brand with annual global sales of over US$9.6 billion.
“There are approximately 200 million spinning machines around the world. Around half, or 100 million, are currently in operation in China. This reflects the enormous growth potential for this patent technology globally, including in the Mainland,” says Prof. Xiao.
Patent technologies can serve to improve product quality, lower production costs, as well as create commercial value for brands. “PolyU has completed trademark registration for the Nu-Torque technology. All fabrics and clothing utilizing yarn manufactured via this technology can elect to bear the Nu-Torque brand label. This gives the garment extra value and makes it more appealing to the customer,” says Edmond Lam, Assistant Director (Technology Transfer & Commercialization) of Institute for Entrepreneurship, PolyU. According to figures provided by licensed manufacturers, garments and apparel derived from the Nu-Torque technology has amounted to cumulative sales of over HK$5.4 billion.
Advantages of Hong Kong as IP trading platform
Apart from yarn production, Hong Kong has pioneered numerous academia-driven technological breakthroughs in recent years. As a result, more and more companies from elsewhere are arriving in Hong Kong to conduct intellectual property trading and technology transfer. “Bordering the Mainland and as the hub of Asia, Hong Kong is ideally located and appeals to a plethora of global corporations who choose to acquire patent technologies via this platform,” added Lam.
He pointed out that the Institute for Entrepreneurship was established by PolyU to encourage knowledge transfer and entrepreneurial incubation. By offering a platform for the academia and industries, exchange and cooperation can be facilitated to achieve win-win objectives. The Institute shares the fruits of its research efforts with businesses via different channels, and also publishes regular newsletters to unveil the latest research outcomes. At the same time, it actively takes part in international expos and trade tours organized by HKTDC to promote the university’s patent technologies to a wider audience.