Open to subjective anomalies, manual inspections have always plagued quality control in the tanning industry. Although every hide is unique, meat processors, tanneries and end-users have a clear need to treat each hide as a ‘fungible commodity’, which can be objectively classified, graded, priced, and traded. This is particularly important for large industry players, whose repeat business transactions represent the bulk of their recurring daily trading. These operations, whilst clearly fundamental to the bottom line of any company, can be open to subjective anomalies, but advances in digital inspection, such as the Numerical Hide Quality (NHQ) system from Hidexe, could give substantial savings and more.
Digital inspection solutions usher in sustainable, disruptive, Leather 4.0 technologies, combining highly accurate cameras and automated machine-learning/artificial intelligence algorithms to:
• eliminate a considerable amount of slow, tedious, and error-prone manual tasks during the tanning process (inspection, data recording, data transcribing and grading);
• materially reduce related waste (raw materials and rejected outputs).
NHQ can produce error-free data feeds in real time, which can be shared securely via a public or a private cloud with inventory accounting, nesting, traceability, and reporting systems, to name a few. The cornerstone of this new technology is the extremely accurate visual identification and measurement of all hide/leather defects, powered by sophisticated optical equipment and real-time processing of large quantities of data.
Digital inspection makes quality control, auditing, and tracing extremely easy and intuitive, providing a versatile platform for many operational synergies. In terms of speed, accuracy and cost, these systems help tanneries to significantly cut their production waste and boost their profits, whilst greatly improving their sustainability credentials. In addition to highly accurate, unbiased, computer-generated grade assessment, the latest innovations can recognise virtually any hide identification, thus allowing for easy traceability. This important feature can be used systematically for supply chain audits and inventory stocktaking. Externally, clients are more likely to sell their hides to the company than to the market because they will be able to trust and audit the results with ease and remain confident that all purchases are adequately compensated, based on hide grades and other pre-defined characteristics.
On the cost side, the primary benefits stem from the elimination of grading error-related mistakes, combined with a significant reduction of manual work that goes into inspection, manual data recording, manual transcribing of data into other databases, plus having to deal with complaints and disputes stemming from inaccurate grading.
Although the positive cash flow impact for labour has not been modelled, one can indisputably state that automation will simplify and considerably accelerate the work of all hide inspectors, regardless of the existing production set-up. Hide inspection jobs are extremely physically demanding, since inspectors must endure long hours standing on their feet in an ergonomically poorly designed workplace, impacting their concentration, posture, stress levels and general wellbeing. These HR considerations are even more complex, since these jobs can suffer from high staff turnover, made worse by the constant loss of technological skills and industry experience every time an inspection specialist leaves the company.
Measuring the primary benefits of the auto inspection technology is relatively straightforward, since this technology, once installed, will allow tanners to immediately eliminate substandard hides at the wet blue/wet white stage, greatly reducing waste at the finished stage. Therefore, for the same quantity of finished product, a reduced spend on energy, chemicals and water on an ongoing basis can be realised. There are also secondary long-term positive effects, many of which can only be qualitatively described and measured, such as the company’s Environmental Social and Governance ratings or customer satisfaction. The importance of ESG or Life Cycle Assessment ratings cannot be underestimated, as there is now a clear trend towards additional life-cycle transparency demanded by various industry stakeholders, including independently verifiable audits.