AgResearch and the Leather & Shoe Research Association of NZ (LASRA) are developing a new agri-technology to process hides and create a new path to high value products.

The innovation opens up new possibilities by transforming hides that are not suitable for premium leather into valuable proteins for nutraceutical and biomaterial applications. Traditionally, hides undergo multiple stages of processing before any defects in the leather are identified. This new approach adds value to otherwise downgraded hides and also streamlines the process, ensuring that every part of the hide is used effectively and sustainably.

The innovative idea of AgResearch and LASRA identifies the defects in the raw hide (prior to processing).

The project brings the best of an early-stage fault detection systems thinking and the leveraging of leather processing expertise and combines it with deep-learning techniques to analyse unique spectral signatures in real-time. 
According to Sujay Prabakar, Science Team Leader at the LASRA, the new solution will lead to $35 million in benefits annually to the industry. 

"Intrinsic faults and defects in processed hides and skins, which cause their downgrading and can only be identified at later stages, lead to increased costs and quality inconsistencies,” says Sujay. 
“By avoiding having to process hides with defects, we optimize resources and improve the industry's environmental footprint, while creating new value.”
AgResearch Senior Scientists Yash Dixit and Marlon M.  Reis are tackling the issue using non-invasive hyperspectral imaging.

Yash explains: "Transforming a cow hide or sheep skin into premium leather generates significant value from our pastoral farming industry, and even more exciting is the prospect of creating a new path for those that cannot be used for premium leather, and turned into other valuable products. 
“Discovering defects after processing is frustrating and wasteful, and   fortunately our preliminary tests are promising, showing that hyperspectral imaging can detect defects before processing begins.

"We are eager to identify more patterns from the data and explore how this research can create new value to the industry.”
The Smart Ideas programme is funded by MBIE. 
New Zealand fellmongers and tanneries are following the developments with great interest.

Dr Prabakar notes: "While fault detection is possible at the Wet Blue stage, a semi-processed step, early-stage detection in raw hides would be a world first and provide immense benefits to the industry globally."

NB: The hides and skins processing industry generates over $380 million in foreign exchange earnings per annum (2017 Stats NZ figure). LASRA members process 100% of NZ’s hides and deerskins and over 85% of lamb and sheepskins.

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