Crucial for the ecology of our industry and the quality of its production, the question of leather traceability is increasingly important for professionals in the entire sector. During the last edition of Première Vision Leather, the manager of Kering group, Chiara Morelli, outlined their sustainable development policy, then John Graebing, the director of Materials Deckers USA explained about the consequences for consumers. This was followed by a presentation by Cédric Vigier and Thierry Poncet, experts from CTC, which was rich in information, and very reassuring about the challenge of traceability, a concept that is becoming much less utopian than in the past. Read on for a round-up of their information.
The dual impact of traceability
“Traceability allows beneficial corrective actions to be taken both from an ecological and a qualitative angle,” explains Cédric Vigier, in charge of the Traceability project within the Innovation department of CTC, of which he is the director. This illustrates why traceability is now a major objective for leather professionals and labels, keen to further improve their production process. Consumer expectations in the area of ecology are now an unavoidable reality that needs to be taken into account through improvements in the production chain, starting with the methods and conditions of animal breeding (deforestation, animal welfare, etc.) on farms. The quality of leather also starts in the farms, where the life led by the animals determines the condition of their hide. But how can action be taken in these two directions if the origins of each skin are not known? “There has to be unit traceability [i.e. per skin] which can resist the mechanical and chemical constraints of tanning, that is inexpensive and not time-consuming, and that is readable at all stages of the leather production process,” says Cedric Vigier.
A clearly marked route
Meat traceability, which is compulsory in Europe, is a good starting point for hide traceability. The veterinary services give each animal raised in France a unique four-digit number preceded by a four-digit code for the farmer and the two-digit number of the geographical department where the animal was born. Inscribed on a ring attached to the animal’s ear, this 10-digit registration number is transcribed onto a paper label attached to the animal’s side at the moment of slaughter. Once the skin has been removed from the body of the animal, this number will be engraved using a laser by thermal ablation. “This stage can be performed at the abattoir, at the rawhide dealer’s premises or at the tannery when the skins are delivered. The number must be written on the neck of the animal, where it will not spoil the skin and on the hair side, except for ovines where the wool is too dense,” the specialist tells us. In the tannery, at the wet blue stage where the first defects become visible, an automatic system records the numbers in a database. At the different stages of the process, the successive operators can therefore associate the number with the defects, as they appear. And this information can be relayed back as far as to the farmer, via the intermediate stages in the chain (the abattoir and the rawhide dealers), so that they can deal with the cause (ringworm, veins, fences, bedding, etc.) and take corrective actions. The tanner can sell the skins with the number. At the level of the transformer, a system is currently being developed to allow this number to be included on the underside of each cut-out piece, in the form of a data matrix code that is laser engraved or printed. With this code included on the finished product, the leather goods maker, footwear maker or tailor is able to know the entire journey of the leather used to make their product and can thus inform the consumer about the source of the leather, and ensure it has respected the environment and the animal.
Relatively easy to implement
At the time of writing, traceability is feasible for ovines, large bovines and calf leather, for whom the investment is profitable, given the price of the skins. Exotic leathers are currently being studied by CTC in order to overcome the constraints of CITES and facilitate certain stages in the tannery. For tailors, leather goods makers or footwear makers in particular, the investment is affordable, costing “around 10,000 euros,” says Cédric Vigier. Further upstream in the process, at the tannery, installing a code reader is not unaffordable “at around 15,000 euros,” according to our expert. At the abattoir, however, the equipment needed to label then engrave the skins is more expensive, costing between 100 and 150,000 euros. “Throughout the country, abattoirs are already printing paper labels and using laser marking, while optical readers are being rolled out at two tanneries. We are the only company in the world, at the moment, to offer this system. The large abattoirs and tanneries will not hesitate to equip themselves as it represents an unqualified advantage for them,” the engineer concluded. An advantage that will benefit all, from consumers, labels, tanners and farmers to the animals themselves!
PREMIÈRE VISION LEATHER, Hall 3