Based in the outer Melbourne suburb of Thomastown, Melba has been leading the way with Australian fabrics for nearly seventy years, gaining a well-deserved reputation as a textile trendsetter. Melba was the first manufacturer to produce warp knits for the automotive seating industry in Australia. After a history of manufacturing for the apparel and automotive industries, in 1996 Melba turned its expertise and talents to developing its technical textiles division.
Tom Quick, a director of Melba Industries, spoke about the company’s new strategic focus with Curve and discussed some of the ‘clever’ fabrics staff are researching, developing and manufacturing.
“A lot of this strategy involves thinking about our philosophy and focussing on what we are really about,” he explained.
“You need to go back to basics with any design and ask yourself what is it that I’m actually trying to achieve here.” Quick said Melba was always on the look out for complex products in an effort to prevent competitors from copying.
Melba recently developed a windproof jumper for troops in Afghanistan. The fabric is a ‘tri-laminate’ that is then printed with a specific camouflage pattern.
In keeping with its ‘clever’ concepts, Melba has also developed fire-proof fabrics for fire fighters, rain proof gear for the military, and a fabric impregnated with carbon spheres which is used to protect against toxic agents.
“We try to be smart about the products we develop, we don’t take on projects that people can copy easily,” Quick said.
“You can protect a design only so far. It is very easy to copy in textiles. If it’s a project you want to be involved with for the long term, and you plan on putting a lot of resources into it, you have to really think carefully about how you design the item, so that it is not replicated or ‘reverse engineered’ by others.”
Fifty per cent of Melba’s resources go into research and development in technical textiles and they export twenty-five per cent of their sales, working across a range of diverse international markets.
Melba operates a successful consultancy and development facility and members of the team supply technical expertise to overseas manufacturing organisations, including the car industry.
“These are not joint venture agreements as such, they are more ‘technology transfer agreements’. For our involvement we agree to get a share of the returns,” explained Quick.
Melba tests fabrics at three sites in Melbourne. They test for a wide range of capabilities – aging, environmental effects, fire proofing, strength, air permeability and electrical stability to name a few.
In a co-operative international venture, Melba has been working with Snowtex, a Swiss fibre manufacturer, in developing a fabric that protects against electro-magnetic radiation.
The potential applications for this product have grown from mobile phone pouches to wallpaper for buildings and blinds for windows. This ‘fabric of the future’ can be constructed into a tent to protect a confidential conversation within.
Snowtex is testing the fabric in the US as a lining in PLC housings in cars to prevent electrical interference.
But when it comes to ‘intelligent textiles’ Melba is taking the concept to new levels.
“This doesn’t just mean the use of a fabric as a conductor and circuit in a jacket for example… it is much more sophisticated,” said Quick.
“The fibres in these fabrics move when the person wearing the garment gets hot. There are various sensors in the garment that trigger the fabric to change form to become more breathable. You can change the form of a garment with sensors that trigger active cooling systems which help to regulate body temperature.”