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Graphic element Research > Growth > Research projects > Previous projects > Industrial Processes > Fault-free carpets a boost for European carpet industry
Graphic element Fault-free carpets a boost for European carpet industry
     
 
FEG Textiltechnik, an SME in the industry, together with six European carpet manufacturers and a spinning mill, were supported by two German research institutes, the Textile Technical University of Aachen and the German Carpet Research Institute. Their project produced a prototype of a 100% on-line quality control system using video cameras, which also reduces production costs.
 

In recent years, carpet manufacturers in Europe have had their ups and downs. Their market has not only come under attack from competitors in the Far East and the United States, but from fashion trends such as the low cost 'plastic' imitation wood floor covering as well. Many homes and offices, as well as public buildings, are furnished with wall-to-wall carpeting which combines exceptional comfort and hard wearing with excellent sound and heat insulation. To maintain its market share and reduce costs the companies were forced to amalgamate into a smaller number of larger firms. For the European carpet industry to survive such competition it needed to both enhance its product quality and cut production costs.
A CRAFT project set up in 1994 aimed to reduce both the amount of defects (thereby improving quality) and the costs of manufacturing. After two years, the team involved in the 'Fault detection by video inspection during carpet manufacturing' project had successfully built a prototype on-line quality control system. The new video-based system stops the tufting machine as soon as a fault is detected, eliminating the need for further post-production inspection. It also helps to optimise machine adjustments, ensuring reproducible quality.

Spinning a yarn

All carpet is produced from the conversion of a raw fibre. With a few exceptions, this fibre is spun into yarn which is then made into carpet by one of three methods - weaving, tufting or bonding. The tufting process, which is a highly automated and very fast stitching process, is the production method chosen for well over 80% of wall-to-wall carpet manufacturing. Each tufting machine inserts between 600 and 2100 stitches per minute into a backing sheet. A needle sends the yarn stitch by stitch through the carpet-backing fabric. By briefly stopping the yarn, a loop builds up. These loop ends will become the carpet surface, known as the carpet pile or face. In a second step, using other machines, the roll of carpet has to go through the finishing stages of colouring, then drying and, if required, printing with a pattern. An additional backing fabric is then laminated to the carpet to reinforce it before the manufacturing process is complete.
Any fault occurring in the first stage has to go through the whole process until the quality is visually inspected and the carpet roll assessed as either first or second quality. Since the tufting machines run at very high speeds, producing 25 square metres of carpet per minute, any fault produces a long length of defective carpet before it can be corrected. These defects represent 4% or more of production output, averaging an estimated 50,000 euro annually for every single tufting machine.

An innovative idea

The success story began in Aachen (Germany) when a good, innovative idea was transformed into an SME (FEG Textiltechnik) a university spin-off from the local textile academic institution. Aachen is one of the leading centres in Germany - and in the whole of Europe - for carpet manufacturing. The directing managers of FEG gathered six more companies from the tufted carpet industry and one spinning mill. The partners needed expert scientific help, and secured the collaboration of two research institutes, the Textile Technical University and the German Carpet Research Institute, both based in Aachen. They provided the video image analyser, cable system and software expertise to process the data. Finally, there were ten partners in a co-operative and team effort working on the project.
Their aim was to build a machine that would provide a 100% quality control on-line. Currently, one operator runs just one tufting machine. As well as controlling the machine, the operator spends two-thirds of his time looking for tufting faults appearing in the fabric - the stitched carpet - to detect any production problems.
The first stage of the project was to define carpet quality and to achieve a consensus of what it was and what measurements were needed to ensure that consistent, high-quality carpets were being produced. Only then could a video monitoring system be devised. The data from the camera is processed and analysed by a computer programme. The novel and modular system uses a video camera to control the carpet quality over the entire roll width. The camera follows directly behind the needle. If a problem occurs - such as a cut or missing thread of yarn, fabric holes, broken fibres, or other tufting or stitching errors - the machine is automatically stopped. The fault can then be rectified before defects are produced. And this fully automated system only needs one operator to run two machines.

Up and running

A prototype tuft control system is now up and running and the partners report that labour costs have been reduced and productivity is up. Technical expertise was the key to obtaining a satisfactory and efficient exchange of know-how and information among the tuft producers (who are normally in competition), the video system producer and the software programming developers. The video camera system uses a combination of advanced image sensor technology (in a line rather than a matrix array for higher resolution) and memory storage, which allows images to be captured in a digital format that is instantly available for processing and evaluation.
The prototype was not ready for evaluation before the official date for completion of the project, but the partners carried on their efforts to complete the work and assess the prototype in production. The on-line quality control is now in full-time operation in the partners' factories. They have shown that the new tuft control system pays for itself in under a year through cost savings accruing from the elimination of defects and reduction of manufacturing costs.
Today, five machines have been sold and are in operation. The SME has doubled its workforce to build on this success - especially in a well-established and conservative industry such as the carpet sector. It will concentrate now on marketing the system to the many hundred potential customers throughout Europe and beyond. Already a new market for the quality control system is undergoing trials. It can also be used to inspect surface defects in technical textiles, such as those used to stiffen high-speed tyres, as well as other materials, like brass wires used in the electronic industry.

Cordis RCN: 20226
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