Performance Fiber Selection Explained

Analyzing Specialty Fabrics

In the realm of performance-textile innovation, there is no perfect fiber. 

Unfortunately, no single performance fiber can do it all – they all have their strengths and weaknesses.  On the other hand, I suppose this is fortunate for me; if there were one perfect textile fiber, my job in Research and Development would be pointless.

Therefore, when selecting which material(s) to use for a specific textile application, it is important to consider numerous factors relative to the final use/application.  At OTEX, we have – over time and through years of experience – developed an in-depth process and a standard Product Development Survey, in order to identify all the vital performance needs and risks of product failure.  This procedure has proven invaluable in terms of ideal fiber selection and textile construction.  

It is not at all unusual for customers of specialty textile components to seek one, or some, performance criteria, and not consider others that will crucially impact the capabilities, lifespan, quality, etc. of their final product.  It is for this reason that – even when a client is confident of the type/design of the textile component they are seeking, or the raw materials they believe will work best, we will still insist on taking the measured steps to confirm their suggestions.  Interestingly, and to their frequent surprise and relief, we are able to highlight a previously unconsidered performance target and make suggestions to improve on their original concept.

Textile / Fiber Performance Criteria and Characteristics

In determining the right fiber and construction for a specialty narrow fabric – whether it be a webbing, elastic, trim, tape, tube, cord, or even an E-Textile, there are 3 main criteria to take into account:

  • Function: This includes all of the performance and physical targets for the textile to provide as a component of its final product application.  An example of this would be tensile strength in the case of webbing for load-bearing crane rigging slings. These slings are used to lift all manner of heavy loads (shipping containers, construction materials, boats, etc.), so measurable/reliable tensile strength is the most important performance feature.  Other common performance requirements for specialty narrow fabrics may include: 
    • Elongation
    • Elasticity
    • Rigidity/Stiffness vs Flexibility
    • Hand (softness)
    • Thickness and Width 
  • Environment: Often confused with function, environment is a performance characteristic that considers a textile’s ability to provide function under specific contextual constraints.  An example of this would be Flame Resistance in webbings used for firefighter’s SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus) harnesses.  While flame resistance is a critical performance characteristic, the functionality criteria include tensile strength, stiffness, and others.  Common environmental performance goals may include: 
    • Flame Resistance
    • Heat Resistance
    • Cut and Abrasion Resistance
    • UV Light Resistance
    • Hydrophobicity
    • Chemical Resistance
    • Arc-flash Resistance

Performance Fiber Examples

The examples listed above are just some of the many considerations that must be taken into account when designing a performance narrow fabric and the materials best suited to achieve optimal performance.  At times, a single fiber will provide the best performance solution, while at other times a combination of materials is needed to cover different targets/goals.  Some of the key fibers we utilize and their relative strengths and weaknesses include:

  • Para Aramids (Kevlar®, Twaron®, Technora®, etc.) perform well in environments demanding heat and flame resistance, coupled with excellent tensile strength. Their resilience in high-stress applications, such as ballistic protection, underscores their value. However, their susceptibility to UV damage and water absorption necessitates careful consideration in outdoor or marine applications.
    • Strengths – heat and flame resistance, tensile strength/tenacity, good abrasion resistance, arc-flash resistance
    • Weaknesses – UV resistance, porous (gains weight when wet) 
  • Meta Aramids (Nomex) feature intrinsic flame resistance and offer a softer alternative suitable for apparel and base layers. Yet, their lower tensile strength and abrasion resistance might limit their use in applications where durability is paramount.
    • Strengths – heat and flame resistance, soft hand, colorfastness
    • Weaknesses – relatively low tensile strength, cut & abrasion resistance, porous 
  • UHMWPE (ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene – notable brands include Spectra® and Dyneema®) fibers stand out for their exceptional tensile strength and resistance to cutting and abrasion, making them ideal for applications where safety and durability are non-negotiable. Their hydrophobic nature ensures performance in wet and marine environments. However, their vulnerability to heat and flame poses challenges in high-temperature applications.
    • Strengths – tensile strength/tenacity, excellent cut & abrasion resistance, hydrophobicity (non-porous), UV resistance
    • Weaknesses – heat and flame resistance 
  • Vectran offers a balanced profile, with moderate resistance to heat and flame, combined with excellent tensile strength and abrasion resistance. Its hydrophobic properties and resistance to arc-flash make it a versatile choice for various industrial applications, although its UV sensitivity requires mitigation strategies for prolonged outdoor use.
    • Strengths – moderate heat and flame resistance, tensile strength/tenacity, cut & abrasion resistance, hydrophobicity, arc-flash resistance
    • Weaknesses – UV resistance 
  • PBI (polybenzimidazole) excels in extreme heat and flame conditions, providing unmatched protection and comfort in firefighting gear and other high-risk environments. Its chemical resistance expands its applicability to hazardous material handling. However, limitations in tensile strength and abrasion resistance may necessitate pairing with other fibers for comprehensive protection.
    • Strength – heat and flame resistance, soft hand, chemical resistance, elongation
    • Weaknesses – tensile strength/tenacity, cut & abrasion resistance 

Performance Fibers at OTEX

This intricate web of performance criteria, environmental considerations, and compliance with standards and certifications is what drives our team at OTEX. Our dedication to understanding and meeting these complex demands is not just about adhering to regulations, but about pushing the boundaries of what is possible in textile technology.

In this landscape of endless possibilities, our mission remains clear: to leverage our expertise, creativity, and dedication to quality in developing textile solutions that not only meet but exceed the expectations of our clients. Whether through enhancing existing products or crafting entirely new ones, our focus is on delivering performance, protection, and peace of mind.

If you and/or your associates are looking to source a narrow textile product with demanding physical properties, we invite you to contact us to discuss the unique challenges of your project/program.  Our Sales, R&D, and Quality Assurance staff are happy to help you find exactly the right design for your needs.  If it is not an existing product from our extensive catalogue, rest assured, nothing makes us more excited than engineering new custom textile solutions.


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