For centuries, the leather tanning process has transformed an animal by-product into a valuable material for producing various items. But what are today’s challenges that tanneries face in leather production and in the tanning industry? Let’s delve into leather processing.
The various leather processing stages
The tanning process is particularly lengthy and elaborate, requiring specialized skills and know-how. Leather processing involves various phases aimed at cleaning and preserving the leather’s structure and making it soft, flexible, resistant and durable.
We can understand the many hides processing stages through some key phases:
- Riviera: the set of preliminary treatments of raw hides, making them suitable for the subsequent tanning phase. Riviera operations are both chemical (preservation, greening, liming and depilation) and mechanical (fleshing and lime splitting).
- Tanning: it is the key process that transforms hides into a non-perishable and workable material. From the initial preparation phases for tanning (liming, soaking, degreasing, and pickling), to the actual tanning of the hides (chrome-based, vegetable-based or with other types of tanning agents) and the subsequent mechanical operations (sammying, splitting and shaving).
- Retanning: through the phases of retanning, dyeing and fatliquoring, it’s the last chemical operation carried out in tannery drums that gives different tactile characteristics, softness and firmness depending on the intended article (leather goods, furniture, footwear, clothing, automotive, etc.).
- Finishing: the subsequent phases give the hides aesthetic and functional characteristics, like color and waterproofing. Finishing is done through dry mechanical processes (staking, milling, buffing, ironing) and chemical transfers (spray painting, padding, roller coating).
- Final processes: crucial for establishing the overall quality of the leathers and preparing them for sale (inspection, grading, trimming, measuring and packing).
Challenges within the tanning process
In addition to the complex work of leather tanning and the delicate one of leather processing, tanneries all over the world face several challenges every day, from environmental sustainability to economic aspects, in order to ensure their commercial success:
- Ensuring consistent quality and homogeneity among different production batches, despite the natural variability of raw hides and the need to industrialize processes.
- Optimizing times and costs of leather processing, production parameters and real-time dosages of products used, in order to minimize waste and errors.
- Sustainable management of wastewater, replacing polluting components and modernizing leather factories to maintain high environmental standards.
- Training adequately qualified and specialized staff to cope with the complexity of tanning processes, often handed down and well established over generations.
- Introducing digitized systems and advanced technological solutions to adapt to modern industrial automation and increase leather production efficiency.
Demands from the tanning industry
The leather market itself requires tanneries to meet increasingly stringent needs. Today, factories must invest to improve the leather tanning and finishing process, in order to establish themselves in an increasingly competitive and globalized market:
- Maintaining international competitiveness and competition, by leveraging the technological innovation provided by process automation and digitization.
- Adhering to rigorous ethical and traceability standards, from animal breeding to hides sale, with structured systems for a full reconstruction of the leather’s history.
- Necessity of significant investments in purification systems, more efficient plants and machinery and responsible production processes to reduce environmental impact.
- Meeting the growing demand from brands and consumers for more and more eco-sustainable and original leather goods, requiring high production flexibility.
- Complying with increasingly urgent and strict environmental, safety and health regulations, which entail considerable operational and management costs.
Advanced solutions by GER Elettronica
Faced with the many complexities a tannery must deal with in leather tanning and finishing, the keyword is simplification: GER Elettronica offers innovative solutions to provide a unique, understandable and detailed picture of leather production process.
We develop automation systems for tanneries and advanced data analysis for leather processing, that allow real-time monitoring of performances in the tanning factory through clear and precise indicators, signaling any issues in relation to set goals.
Our machines for the leather industry systematically analyze the hides throughout the entire processing, compiling data useful for providing a complete view of production stages and performances over time. The result? Maximum efficiency, immediate and objective quality control, full process sustainability and guaranteed product traceability.