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Issue 478, 4 March 2002

Keeping wool clean with robots and air

Wool and robots may not seem to have much in common, but research in the school of textiles and design is looking at using robotics to solve a perennial problem for the wool industry, which, if resolved, could increase UK wool sales by 6.5m a year.

Wool easily becomes contaminated by baling twine, feedsacks or even crisp packets which get chopped up as the wool is processed and show up as white dandruff-like flecks when the wool is dyed, spoiling the look of the finished carpet or cloth.

In the factory, the wool flows past at 20 metres a minute, yet contaminants are currently identified by eye, and removed by hand. Not surprisingly, many slip through, and have to be picked again by hand from the finished cloth.

Textiles researchers Dr Abbas Dehghani, Dr Zhenwei Su, Barry Greenwood and Liwei Zhang have found a way to automate the removal, using a system which recognises foreign particles in the wool at speeds up to 25 metres a minute. Fine light sources pinpoint the contaminant's position and a series of jet extractors and a robotic system separate and remove it from the wool.

Dr Abbas Dehghani: "We are now refining the system, to ensure every type of likely contaminant is identified and removed. The big test will come at the end of this year when we will try out the system in a real scouring mill. We don't expect to see any 'dandruff' on our products at all."

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