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Educated guesswork

My Take | January 15, 2024 | By: Janet Preus

On a semi-regular basis, this publication has run a “year in review” feature in January. That may mean the previous year, or it could include the year that’s just begun. This January, it means both. We are starting, logically, with the previous year, but the upcoming feature (“Looking ahead”) may seem like déjà vu all over again. 

This isn’t all that surprising. Developments in advanced textiles don’t happen overnight, and even occasional breakthroughs are more often the result of long and arduous work, as opposed to a serendipitous moment in the lab. Yes, that means that this year I anticipate talking about what we talked about last year, but that’s not all.

In Marie O’Mahony’s feature, “The year that was,” she highlights four significant issues or developing technologies that held significance for the advanced textiles industry in 2023: the supply chain, robotics, 3D printing, and biotechnology. 

Please note that we have not said, “the only four,” or even “the top four.” Depending on your role in the industry and your perspective due to other variables, your list could be different; however, there is little question that these four had an impact this past year, and they are very likely going to be part of the picture in 2024, as well. You might think that’s just guesswork,” but I call it educated guesswork.

Here’s why I think O’Mahony’s four points deserve to be expanded upon in our “Looking ahead” feature, to be posted later this month:

  • The supply chain is sensitive to world politics, and we all know about the volatile areas. The nature of our concerns about this issue are likely to shift as geopolitical situations change – but the issue is not going away. 
  • As robotics in manufacturing becomes more sophisticated – and more available – it could also become more affordable. This could also alter workforce expectations, necessary skills and even work hours. 
  • As much as 3D printing has found mainstream uses in many industries (including aerospace research) there’s still a lot of exploring to do in the textile world, especially in smart fabrics and e-textiles. This technology, too, is intriguing because of the range of possibilities being explored. 
  • The biggest question about biotechnology is not “if” but “when.” It seems to me that the development of new biomaterials is accelerating. Polyesters still dominate; the question is, “for how long?”

There is a major unknown, as well, that has the potential for enormous and far-reaching impact. I’m referring to artificial intelligence, of course, which we will address in our February features. Everybody has some idea of what it is, and even what it can do, but nobody is prepared to say where, exactly, it will take us. If you find this just a little scary, you are not alone. The best we can do is to learn, find the most productive uses for AI, and advocate for controls that protect the integrity of what the industry has to offer. For these reasons, at least, educated guesswork has never been so critical.

Janet Preus is senior editor of Textile Technology Source. She can be reached at

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