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Graphic element Research > Growth > Research projects > Previous projects > Industrial Processes > New hide trimming machine for the leather industry
Graphic element New hide trimming machine for the leather industry
     
 
Europe is an important player in the international leather trade. With some 25 percent of the world's leather production and one of the largest and most dynamic consumer markets for leather articles, Europe stands out as the leading force in international leather and tanning business circles. Small and medium sized companies predominate in the tanning sector, and the consequent flexibility, adaptability and quick response to demand constitute some of the industry's most important assets. This Brite-Euram project aimed to improve tanning efficiency by eliminating the waste associated with hide trimming.
 

Tanning is a notoriously time-consuming and often wasteful process. The fresh hides received by tanneries are of an extremely irregular shape and in order to facilitate their processing, the leather manufacturer needs to trim the hides at several stages during the tanning process. At each trimming, scraps are discarded that have been treated to some extent along with the rest of the hide, and as the trimming is carried out further along in the processing cycle, scraps represent greater and greater losses in terms of processing energy and materials. Tanning efficiency would be substantially increased if all the trimming could be done early on.

Feasibility studies

This project was aimed at demonstrating the technical and economical feasibility of the early geometrisation of calf and bovine hides, and at developing an industrial-scale prototype machine for the automatic cutting.
Partners initially focused on the basic question of whether or not it was even possible to carry out all of the trimming before processing. Using specialised software, optimum algorithms for early geometrisation were elaborated. From there, a prototype cutting machine had to be built and trials carried out. All of these steps were completed successfully and together demonstrated that animal hides could indeed be trimmed completely with minimal error before any processing took place.
The focus then turned to the question of economic feasibility and whether the process was sensible in terms of costs and benefits. The answer was a resounding yes.

Economic and environmental performance

First, indirect gains were demonstrated through the possibility of recycling the raw leather trimmings, which could now be produced in larger and more complete sections. Prior to this project, the treatment and disposal of scraps represented seven to ten percent of leather manufacturing costs. Savings were demonstrated in terms of reduced consumption of processing materials, as smaller amounts of water, energy and chemicals are needed to produce the same amount of leather. Processing chemicals currently represent 15 to 18 percent of leather manufacturing costs. The discharge of toxic chemicals like chromium is thus also decreased. This entails a cost reduction for tanneries, which pay upwards of 80 euro per ton of discharged chromium-contaminated material.
Finally, efficiency was increased in terms of reduced time lost during multiple trimming operations. Overall cost savings have been estimated at 0.006-0.009 euro per square metre.
The project results have provided an enormous boost for the ongoing development of automated processes in the leather tanning industry. The new algorithms for early geometrisation provide the means for obtaining the regularly shaped hides which are a prerequisite for the automation of mechanical operations. In addition, working conditions are greatly improved with the elimination of dangerous operations like old-fashioned manual cutting with knives.
Partners have now suggested that even further savings could be realised in disposal and transportation costs if the trimming of hides were carried out at the slaughterhouse level.

Application

French project partner Digital Control, long known for its advanced waterjet cutting machines, is now successfully marketing the Trimjet 150, a commercial version of the trimming machine developed during this project. It comprises a leather conveyor unit, visualisation and image processing unit, waterjet cutting unit, high-pressure pump and control and supervision unit, with an optional return belt allowing loading and unloading by a single operator. The system is computer controlled with a suite of efficient and user friendly applications providing contours, hole and defect detection, image processing and leather hide area identification. Simulation of the trimming operation and yield estimation can also be performed. The applications are compatible with Window 95, Windows 98 and Windows NT operating systems.
As for the European leather industry, with an annual turnover of nearly 10 billion euro, over 3,000 companies and some 50,000 people directly employed in the sector, it has long demonstrated its competitiveness on the global market. With ongoing modernisation initiatives such as that shown in this Brite-Euram project, combined with investment in training, environmental infrastructure and export promotion, the industry looks set to face the future with continued confidence.

Cordis RCN: 42901
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