Leather and technology

Although it is an ancient industry with ancestral savoir-faire, the leather sector is nevertheless at the cutting edge of modernity thanks to the constant updating of its techniques, particularly thanks to new technologies. Whether it is to improve manufacturing processes, create new and even more innovative articles or simply to adapt leather to modern life, the sector’s professionals can make use of increasingly specialised technology.


For different and innovative articles

Thanks to the use of new technologies, the leather industry can constantly innovate to create different articles that breathe new life into the collections of fashion labels.

Entirely automated, laser perforation transforms leather in a way that cannot be matched by traditional methods such as stamping. The pattern – however complex it may be – is created, scanned, digitalised and recorded by a computer, which will transcribe it into a programme. The same computer than controls the laser beam based on this programme in order to reproduce the design. “The fineness of the ray allows a degree of precision and sophistication in the perforation that would be impossible with any other method,” notes a spokesperson from Conceria Vignola. “The method is very quick and it neither damages nor deforms the support so does not weaken it,” a counterpart from Bopell tells us.

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Laser-perforated leather from ©Bopell

Digital printing, as its name suggests, also uses computers, initially to produce the design. Even before the printing stage, computer graphics are used to create or prepare the image using software to adapt it to the use that will be made of it. It can be recoloured, resized and redesigned according to the desired result. The computer linked to the printer reads the pattern and controls the inkjets that will print onto the material. And thanks to the settings that have been entered beforehand, the machine recognises the material, identifies it and adjusts the impression according to its surface area and its thickness.

The precision offered by technology also allows splitting to reach degrees of skin thicknesses that were unimaginable a few years ago. “The machine, which splits the skin through its thickness, is guided by a robot. Its settings change according to the variety of the skin, the type of tanning and its thickness but is also heavily dependent on the experience and skill of the technician operating it. The electronics are also used to detect problems, breakdowns or malfunctions. Before the technology came onto the scene, we worked to a thickness of a millimetre. Now we can adjust the thickness to tenths of a millimetre and can even go as far as 0.1 mm. And there are no knife marks or visible relief with this type of splitting,” says Fatima Valentin from the company Eureka, specialised in splitting leather.

Thanks to technology, splitting can now achieve minuscule thicknesses ©Eureka

A real turnaround

In contrast, leather can also be used by technology and deploy its protective properties on all the devices of our connected lives.

Thanks to conductible leather, it is no longer necessary to take off your gloves to use your tactile smartphone. By introducing into the leather production process, a specific chemical component – the precise nature of which, understandably, was not revealed – the leather is no longer a barrier to touch and the pressure and electricity of the fingers are transmitted to the screen captors. “In fact, the entire production process of our Easy Touch leather (tanning and finishing) is conditioned by this functionality,” explains Caroline Krug of Tanneries Pechdo. “We have performed tests that prove its durability, and its resistance to rain and sunlight. This article is available in lamb, goat and bovine side leather, and only in black for the time being, although other colours are currently being developed. Gloves made from Easy Touch leather can be lined with any other textile.”

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Gloves in conductible leather from ©Tanneries Pechdo

A particularly ideal material for containers, leather encases our precious technological tools in all sorts of covers that are as protective as they are elegant. Like a counterweight to the coldness of the devices, leather provides the sensuality of its texture and the symbol of its origin. “For my collection of cases for iPhone, iPad and MacBook, I chose young bull leather because it is soft, strong and pleasant to the touch,” says Mathieu Bounie, founder of the accessories company Monsieur Galant. “I line it with suede goat leather and cover the spine with three or four layers of dye to give a better hold.” Vegetable-tanned leather can also combine with technology for even greater contrast between modernity and tradition, according to the secular technique of moulding. “We can produce a shell in a vegetable-tanned leather that is around 2mm thick, then wet it and apply it to a mould and let it dry in an oven,” the manager of the Swedish tannery Tarnsjo tell us. “Vegetable-tanned leather has the advantage of being more stable than mineral-tanned leather”. 

Telephone case and MacBook cover in young bull leather from  © Monsieur Galant