Why the Vorarlberg textile cluster can survive in the heart of Europe
Despite the structural changes in recent decades, the Vorarlberg textile cluster is now regarded as "Textile Silicon Valley". Of Vorarlberg's 360 industrial companies, over 200 belong to the textile industry, which covers practically all processing sectors. We show you how the Vorarlberg textile industry has managed to achieve a leading position in Europe despite the massive shrinking process of the past 40 years.
Closed value chain
A central success factor of the Vorarlberg textile cluster is to be found in the fact that with 55 companies in the textile and clothing industry and 140 embroidery companies, all textile production techniques are available within a radius of only 30 kilometres. From the spinning mill to the finished textile product, the region has a closed value chain in a very small space and thus all the expertise for the design and manufacture of innovative textile products. These framework conditions provide a decisive advantage for the implementation of consortium innovation projects and the transfer of inventions into the economic value creation process.
Specialization in niche markets
Large textile factories can no longer be found in Vorarlberg today. They have been replaced by highly innovative companies that have positioned themselves above all in high-tech niches and are thus extremely successful on international markets. They are no longer limited to clothing products, but are leaders in the development and manufacture of smart textiles and special textile materials for a wide variety of applications, including automotive and aircraft construction.
Close links between science and business
Another key success factor of the Vorarlberg textile cluster is the close cooperation with the Institute of Textile Chemistry and Textile Physics at the University of Innsbruck in Dornbirn. Since 1982, the Institute has supported textile companies in researching and implementing innovative products, processes and services - from the fibre to the finished product. As a result of this intensive cooperation, over 3.6 million euros in substantial funding for research and development have already been made available in the last two years.
"Our institute with 20 researchers deals with different tasks in basic research as well as with applied research and technology development. The focus is on supporting companies in technology and innovation projects," explains the director of the Dornbirn Institute, Prof. Thomas Bechtold.
The projects and investigations range from the processing of wool for functional underwear and the integration of electronics for sensor textiles to the production of carbon fibre structures that are used in the construction industry to reinforce concrete (textile concrete).
Additional infrastructure for top-level research
With the newly created Chair of Advanced Manufacturing in 2016, an additional infrastructure was created with the aim of expanding research capacities in the future market of technical textiles. Under the leadership of Professor Tung Pham, the available funds - three million euros over the next five years - will be used to set up a dedicated research group that is intensively involved in the production of intelligent textiles.
With the receipt of the COMET Competence Center TCCV (Textile Competence Center Vorarlberg) in autumn 2016, the textile cluster Vorarlberg has another textile research institution in the field of Smart Textiles with a total budget of about 6 million euros since spring 2017.
Operational research as a driver of innovation
The high economic strength of the Vorarlberg textile cluster is also due to the fact that companies invest substantially in research and development in addition to their diverse research facilities. In Vorarlberg, almost 80 percent of R&D expenditure is borne by Vorarlberg companies, only a fifth of the money comes from the public sector and the EU. This is the highest proportion of companies in Austria and underlines the strong focus of the Vorarlberg economy on research and innovation. The positive consequences of this strategy are innovative products, processes and services that can assert themselves on the international markets against strong competition.
Smart Textiles Platform strengthens innovative power
Another decisive factor for the high innovative strength of the Vorarlberg textile cluster is the "Smart Textiles Platform" launched by the Vorarlberg textile entrepreneur Günter Grabher. Grabher initiated the platform to collectively promote innovations, especially in the field of technical textiles, and to ensure the maintenance of competitiveness. With currently 53 members, it is one of the largest networks of textile companies and combines the competencies of the entire textile value chain under one roof.
As part of collaborative research projects initiated via the Smart Textiles platform, new types of technical textiles such as lightweight components for the automotive industry or new highly automated manufacturing processes for technical textiles can be developed. The platform also serves to generate national and international funding as well as intensive international technology exchange, for example in the form of the annual textile symposium SALTEX.
Furthermore, the networking of the platform members among each other as well as the networking across industry boundaries is promoted. The positive positioning of the Vorarlberg textile industry and the "Vorarberg Textile Cluster" brand are thus constantly made visible and consolidated.
Conclusion: Textile Cluster Vorarlberg
The European textile industry has developed into a high-tech industry with technical textiles and "smart textiles". In order to survive in these markets, the Vorarlberg textile cluster relies on the bundling of competencies. Intensive networking via the Smart Textiles Platform and innovation based on the latest scientific findings are key areas for making optimum use of the innovative potential of the Vorarlberg textile industry and securing competitiveness.
Born in the Salzkammergut. After working for Shell and Porsche, he concentrated on innovation management as a study assistant at the Innovation Department of the Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration. In 2003 he founded LEAD Innovation and manages the company as Managing Partner. Lectures at MIT, in front of companies like Google or NASA.