Deliveries of rapier and projectile shuttleless looms to the world's textile mills increased by 31% in 2009, a year when total loom purchases declined, according to a new report, in a move that suggests the Asian woven fabric industry is moving upmarket.

Indeed, shipments of rapier and projectile type looms to mills in Asia surged by 47%, while deliveries of air-jet looms to mills in Asia plunged by 40%, according to research by Textiles Intelligence.

As a result of this sudden shift, the share of rapier and projectile looms in total purchases of shuttleless looms by Asian mills increased from 38% to 54% - its highest level since records began.

The sudden surge in rapier and projectile loom purchases implies that the Asian woven fabric industry is moving upmarket in response to the global economic downturn, says Textiles Intelligence. Rapier and projectile looms tend to be used for weaving fabrics which are more complicated and of higher added value than those made on air jet looms.

Significantly, markets for such fabrics tend to be more resilient in times of crisis than sales of basic fabrics produced on air-jet looms.

Rapier and projectile looms also provide more flexibility in terms of product variety and are better suited to producing shorter runs of different fabric types for a wider range of applications.

This capability provides fabric manufacturers with a significant competitive advantage at times when customers are choosier and want smaller amounts of fabrics to be delivered in shorter time frames.

Rapier and projectile machines are capable of producing smaller batches more efficiently because they have lower weft insertion rates. Air-jet machines, by contrast, have high weft insertion rates and set-up times are longer, which makes them better suited to producing longer runs.

The rise in purchases of rapier and projectile looms can be traced largely to sharp increases in acquisitions by mills in Bangladesh and China.

Acquisitions of rapier and projectile looms by mills in Bangladesh surged by 181%, or 5,273 machines, while acquisitions by the industry in China increased by 27%, or 2,073 machines.

At the same time acquisitions of air-jet looms by the industry in China plunged by 41%, or 4,189 machines.

Click here for more details on the report, 'World Markets for Textile Machinery: Part 2 - Woven Fabric Manufacture.'