Challenges in Weaving Automation

The Indian textile industry is currently being transformed from a "sunset" sector into a "sunrise" sector. It is being hailed as "the growth engine of the Indian economy" (ref. Recent changes in the global scenario herald excellent growth prospects for the industry for the next few years.

In terms of the technology status of the various sectors of the industry, spinning has always been hailed as being technologically on par with the best in the world. However, it has been recognized that the weaving and processing sectors have been lagging behind and efforts are being made by the various stakeholders (government, textile industry and textile engineering industry) to upgrade and modernize these sectors.

The weaving sector has about 19 lakh shuttle looms. A large part of these shuttle looms (almost 15 lakh) are obsolete. The number of shuttleless looms is about 50,000, most installed during the last three years, largely encouraged by incentives provided under the TUF scheme, offered by the Ministry of Textiles. However, a large percentage of these (almost 70%) are imported and of these too, a large percentage comprises of used machines.

Why is automation important in the weaving sector? Global competition ensures that only the fittest survive. Today's weaver needs to ensure that he/she is able to manufacture and supply the finest quality of fabric, at the lowest cost, in the shortest possible time-frame. Automation is the only option which will allow the weaver to attain this objective.

What are the challenges faced for automation in weaving for the Indian Textile Industry?

The nature of the weaving industry is changing. Around the early 80s, the focus moved f rom composite mills to decentralized units and new clusters such as Bhiwandi, Surat, Ichalkaranji, Erode, etc. began to develop. Because the resultant units are smaller, the focus on having a trained workforce, established workpractices, data collection and utilization has diminished. It is only very recently that the trend has started to reverse and decentralized units are successfully adopting a mill-like approach to their business.

The focus of the global majors is higher machine speeds and wider widths. Today's machines can offer weft insertion rates of more than 2,000 to 2,500 metres per minute and widths of upto 3.8metres. Most of the machines from the Indian manufacturers offer weft insertion rates of around 350 to 650 metres per minute and widths upto 2.3metres. In order to ensure that they are able to compete with established brands, machinery manufacturers need to offer machines with higher speeds and wider widths.

In order to perform under such demanding conditions, we need yarn of better quality. However, spinners have risen adequately to the occasion and today yarn of the required quality is available, albeit in smaller quantities and at a higher cost. In fact, yarn is being exported to countries where it is being used on the most modern weaving machines.

Operating under such conditions also requires precision manufacturing and metallurgical skills. Most of the infrastructure of the domestic machinery manufacturers is as outdated and obsolete as the machines that they manufacture. Entrepreneurs in the decentralized sector need to be educated about the benef its of investment in modernization and that such investments can actually bring down the cost of production, reduce fabric defects and help them compete with low-cost, obsolete weaving machines. Incentives and education also needs to be provided for investments in auxiliary systems such as environmental control and material handling within the loomshed.

Development and local and economic availability of auxiliary devices such as high-speed dobbies, cams and jacquards needs to be encouraged so that they are not a weak link in the chain of weaving and that the machines are not forcibly slowed down due to the limitations of these devices.

Weaving machines need to incorporate more of electronics and control hardware and software. Such systems are essential for higher productivity of our weaving machines and for minimizing fabric defects due to yarn breakage or machine malfunctions. Monitoring software can also help better data collection as well as inventory management functions.

Various stakeholders involved have now recognized the fact that growth in this sector will bring about an unprecedented demand for trained technicians (machine operators, jobbers, engineers, etc). The industry needs to share their global aspirations by encouraging students to participate in live projects so that they perceive textile industry as an attractive and viable career option.

- Ketan Sanghvi, President, ITAMMA

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