By: Ketan Sanghvi

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 from 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 work-practices, data collection and utilization has diminished. Due to insufficient awareness, decision-making is not always rational and the investment capability of the units also has diminished. Unethical business-practices are rampant. 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 2000 to 2500 metres per minute and widths of upto 3.8m. Various options are available for weft insertion such as rapier, air or water-jet and multiphase. Most of the machines from the Indian manufacturers offer rapier-based weft insertion rates of around 350 to 650 metres per minute and widths upto 2.3m. 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 and also other types of weft-insertion technologies.

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.

For example, critical to the success of high speed weaving machines, is the successful manufacture of high-quality precision cams as they are found in many subsystems of weaving machines. This should include casting/forging, machining, grinding and finishing. There are very few facilities for manufacturing such cams in the Indian industry today.