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Automated Dyeing

Obem's machines, software propel Italian venture to lap dyeing's cutting edge.

High-end knitting yarns are very popular, provided they fully match the exacting specifications of top-quality products. With increasing reliance on technology to set the textile industries of developed nations apart from low-cost competition, companies are constantly searching for the capability to excel at difficult production techniques. One such opportunity exists through lap dyeing on star-frame machines from Obem and Maibo in Italy. These machines are completely automated and robotized and can provide a plant with outstanding performance, including significant benefits in operational economy and production flexibility. But first, it is necessary to explore the background of what has precipitated this nearly insatiable thirst for automation and technology by industries in developed countries. The Art Of DifficultyAt every season change, new trend-setting collections are presented at Frances Pitti Filati. These collections feature the latest in product composition, structure, count, color, finishes and end-uses for knit and woven goods. At times, it has seemed the intent of the designers and creatives has been decidedly sadistic, as they render creations seemingly aimed at making life difficult beyond all measure for manufacturers. Flashes of design brilliance, along with extreme performance properties required by the designs, have at times taxed technical capabilities to the limits. But, of course, like so many things, these high-performance properties and difficult-to-manufacture fabrics are part of a subtle strategic move aimed at leveling the playing field with low-cost manufacturers from the Far East and other regions. With these high-end products, the market favors the professionals in Europe and America who can call upon experience, expertise, financial resources, skilled personnel and the best production plants available in the globalized textile world.By hook or by crook, we have become real masters of this art of difficulty, said one Italian entrepreneur, whose family woolen mill has operated for more than a century in the top end of the sector. In substance, in order to rise to the present and future challenges, it is wise to carve out for oneself a sustainable niche in the upper part of the market pyramid. To be successful, one should express to the utmost the best qualities of a companys potential and transmute them into excellent products, superior efficiency and a wide range of versatile customer services.In order to carry out a synergistic action in these areas, industrials in Italy, for example, are mustering not only the resources of textile manufacturers, but of machine and plant builders as well, to provide the newest tools for the production of the enhanced technical and qualitative properties and characteristics that take various materials beyond state-of-the-art. Italian textile specialists have recognized the need of having domestic industry at the forefront of the specialized machinery field. Textile manufacturers and machinery producers are working closely together on the development of new machines and innovative process technologies that maximize the advantageous differential in production capability between low-cost countries and the Italian industry.A concrete example of the synergy is provided by Botto Poala, which has aggressively adopted automated skein dyeing of delicate yarns on star-frame machines by the lap-dye method. Quality FirstFounded in 1876 by Botto Giuseppe, what is now the Botto Group embodies four companies, of which Botto Poala and Cascami Seta are the most influential in relation to lap dyeing. Though the groups businesses are dominated by wool, the existence of a silk-processing business unit speaks volumes about the technical/commercial layout of the industrial holding company, which is located at Vallemosso. It is an indication of a trend toward high-quality products (it is not by chance that silk is still the queen of fibers) and diversity of yarn offerings in the marketplace. The company produces not only fine and very fine wool, cashmere, luxury hair and blends thereof, but also silk, silk blends, fine cottons, linens and even man-made fibers capable of imparting particular properties and functionality (microfibers, elastane) to special yarns.All of these products and more were on the stand of Botto Poala at Pitti Filati during the launch of the Fall/Winter 2001/2002 collections. Quality first is what we are looking for, said Roby Botto Poala, the companys chief executive. We concentrate our efforts on quality; on service, which is increasingly important; on heavy investments in the dyehouse that substantially improve service; on delivery management. The mastering of the pipeline from combing/spinning to dyeing ensures the full control of the product chain. The customer requirements are ever-increasing, and we fall into line accordingly.Of particular interest to TI was the TMB/CNM hank-dyeing machine from Obem and Maibo, which debuted at the Paris ITMA. This machine requires no human handling of material, except for hanging the greige hanks for the final unloading of the dyed material from the dryer. The First PhaseBotto Poalas new dyehouse has been completely rebuilt on the site of the previous installation. Some work was still underway at the time of the interview. Before long, an automatic color kitchen will be installed, and then well start operating on two shifts, said Fabrizio Roncarolo, plant manager. For the time being, we have a long working day and produce 1000 to 1200 kilograms (kg). Ultimate production capacity is about double the current output. Today, we handle an average of 25 batches a day, with three operators in the department and five specialists in the laboratory, where about 100 daily dyeing tests are carried out. The dominant role is played by the first phase of production, which is the study of what is necessary for the reproduction of the reference samples supplied by customers, and for the preliminary control performed on the already dissolved recipe ready to be added to the dyebath for the production. It is an indispensable precaution in our situation, and for two definite reasons. 

The first is that the customers demands are very high (tantamount to zero tolerance) and, therefore, the execution must be perfect, as far as humanly possible; and, secondly, with the kind of materials usually processed (extremely delicate luxury yarns), it is virtually impossible to resort to redyeing, which would affect the final quality. Consequently, for us, right first time is not a beautiful definition, but an absolute processing imperative. Always to the end of achieving the highest quality of dyed yarns, we chose the star-frame machines, which handle the skeins without subjecting them to the wearing action of an intense dyebath circulation, as is required with standard cabinet dyeing machines. On the other hand, in the past, these machines were penalizing, as they involved a substantial labor need and downtimes for drops and lifts.Today, with the machines you are seeing here, the lot changeover takes place in a matter of a couple of minutes. Moreover, the fact that the wet material is never touched during processing is an additional great advantage of genuinely qualitative type.In addition, mention should be made of the matchless versatility of this type of equipment with regard to flexibility and dyeable quantities. We must produce batches weighing from 4 to 5 kg up to 200 to 300 kg, and this is easily performed on the 10 ranges installed. Moreover, these can be coupled for dyeing one batch only. Although we are always working under pressure to ensure on-time deliveries (on average, they take place about 15 days after the order), this plant has performed as expected for more than six months. We have less than 2 percent of lots that need redyeing.The plant also features a highly advanced laboratory (the heart of the system for a plant of this kind), and produces fabric in an atmosphere of high environmental quality. Robotization In DyeingObem has been a name that in Italy is synonymous with innovative solutions and intensive, steady research in automation of package, tow and top dyeing. Its robotized API-O and API-V lines feature both high productivity and efficient operating economy. These ranges have been installed all over the world (20 API-O and nine API-V lines).The challenge recently taken up by Obem and its subsidiary, Maibo, targets a virtually untapped field in which there has been little robotization hank dyeing.Many difficulties have so far prevented a rational evolution in this field. First and foremost is the hank suppleness, which makes every handling step extremely critical in comparison with the similar operation carried out with cheeses or other firm packages. 
More than a year of development and experimentation on scale models, combined with the experience made available by the Botto Group, have led to the development of the worlds first fully robotized hank-dyeing plant, which is installed at the new dyehouse of the Filatura Botto Poala. Skein handling is carried out by an automatic shuttle, called CNM-4B (a smaller version of the well-known CNR-10 P model). Obems solution consists of handling skeins already loaded on their carriers in order to reduce the number of handlings inside the dyeing machine, and in the modular loading concept of typical package dyeing machines. The shuttle can transport up to four dyeing arms (with a minimum module equal to two arms), which it then loads into the TMB-SV/tr apparatus.The latest version of the star-frame machine, which features triangular arms and is manufactured by Maibo, is a boon to high-end yarn producers because of its extremely delicate yarn treatment. The extractable arms make this machine well-suited to robotization; furthermore, the arms permit the production of partial loads by loading blind or half blind arms.The installation is particularly rational and ergonomic. The only phase the operator must take care of is the manual loading of the hanks on the arms and their removal at the end of the treatment. These operations take place at two distinct stations, which are located at the ends of the plant for easy control of incoming and outgoing material.The Minnetti company contributed, together with Obem and Maibo, to the development of the new range by providing the squeezer, which is equipped with a manipulator for the withdrawal of the dyed hanks from an interchange station, as well as from the chain oven from which the skeins come out uniformly dry and ready for shipment. The TMB-SV/tr machines with triangular rotating arms are made in various sizes, with a capacity ranging between 10 and 300 kg per machine and, in the case of machines linked in parallel, with the possibility of loads up to 600 kg per batch.The basic point of difference for this machine is its triangular skein holder, which can rotate around itself. In this fashion, the arm ensures both the liquor passage to the yarn, and the hank rotation (according to times pre-established by the user). Consequently, there is no lap arm, a component that is a mainstay of conventional equipment. This expedient eliminates dry friction and yarn tangling, thereby enhancing the final quality. With the 1.2-meter-long version (20-percent longer than conventional arms), each arm has a capacity of from 8 to about 15 kg of yarn, depending on reeling and on the type of fiber employed.At the new dyehouse of Botto Poala, Lessona, there are 10 machines with variable capacities and configurations: two arms (from 4 to 30 kg of material); eight arms (from 24 to 100 kg); and 12 arms (from 72 to 180 kg). Visual Dye: The "Made In Obem" ProgrammerThree years have elapsed since the launch of VisualDye, the Obem software program that operates on PCs that have the Windows 95 or higher operating system. With more than 100 units installed, the technology represents for Obem a further step forward in the pursuit of value-added customer service. A color touch screen enables all machine functions. As well, VisualDye can handle up to 400 different dyeing programs and can obtain in real time all information relating to the dyeing equipment, which makes this product an ideal user interface for the Obem dyeing machines.Developed by the companys in-house research and development department, this programmer features an industrial PC, which is continually updated. The network card integrated into the PC enables VisualDye to communicate, via the customer Ethernet network, with the centralized dyehouse controller: the VisualDye Center.From the server of the VisualDye Center office, the program controls up to 60 dyeing ranges, receiving in real time all necessary data to process a complete report for each production cycle. It is possible to remotely activate the machines manual controls in order to create and implement dyeing cycles and to print all information necessary for the efficient running of the department. In robotized dyehouses, VisualDye communicates directly with the operating software of the material transport (also designed by Obem). Finally, upon request, it is possible to interface connection with the best-known color-kitchen controllers, as well as software for complete dyeing management. Because the operating software is easily customized to different production requirements, the VisualDye Center can integrate pre-existing dyeing machines that have not been built by Obem. April 2001