DEVELOPMENT: Innovative solutions will now help Angora wool weavers churn out new products

A cutting-edge technology developed jointly by the Institute of Plasma Research (IPR) and the National Institute of Design (NID) would soon enable cottage industries involved in Angora wool manufacturing in India to spin 100 per cent Angora yarn without having to face the present problems of static charge, shedding of fibres and fibrosity.

The extremely soft and warm Angora wool comes from the Angora rabbit. The yarn has a silky texture and can be conveniently used in high-altitude clothing, especially those used by defence personnel deployed in sub-zero temperature regions. The fibre is also in great demand in the fashion industry. Despite its various advantages, however, the Angora fibre is not sufficiently strong to withstand the friction and cohesion among the fibres while spinning. The fibre has to be woven with Merino wool in order to impart more strength to the Angora fibre. This leads to decreased productivity and increased fibre loss. It was precisely these kinds of problems faced by weavers that have been addressed by the research institution and designers at NID. The new technology, Atmospheric Plasma Processing System for Angora Wool (APPAW), is the first atmospheric pressure plasma technology for textile processing that has been simultaneously developed and patented within India, with a sponsorship from the government's Department of Science and Technology (DST).

APPAW modifies the surface of the fibre by plasma treatment, thus strengthening it and increasing its scope for multiple utility. An eco-friendly process, the system generates plasma at atmospheric pressure, using air as the plasma forming gas. The technology is economically viable, too, as the cost of plasma-treatment is almost a fraction of that of the Angora wool. Following its successful innovation, a prototype system for spinning cent per cent Angora wool and manufacturing new products was set up at Kullu in 2009.

The venture was supported by the Central Wool Development Board of the Ministry of Textiles. Its success spurred weavers from across the country to demand for setting up of similar plants at the Angora cottage industry clusters. Keeping with the growing demand, the technology was licensed to a leading Ahmedabad-based textile machine manufacturer InspirOn Engineering Private Limited for commercialisation. The company, on its part, is currently setting up three industrial scale plants for plasma-processing of Angora fibres. The plants are coming up at Ranichauri in Uttarakhand, Kullu in Himachal Pradesh and Chungthang in Sikkim, again under the sponsorship of the DST.

The Ranichauri plant is ready to be commissioned and will be delivered to the Himalayan Institute for Environment, Ecology and Development (HIFEED) soon. Researchers at the IPR and the NID are still working at developing newer applications for the technology though. Pointing out that there is always a shortage of Angora wool for experimental purposes since its annual production is only around 40 tonnes, an NID source said that working closely with the weavers at the new plant would enable the researchers to explore the various usages of the fibre and enlarge product range with innovative designs.

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