Days to remember - Freiberg Leather Days 2016

20 June 2016

Following on from the success of last year’s Freiberg Leather Days, this year’s event, held on 15–16 June in Freiberg and the fifth of its kind, once again offered a chance to exchange ideas and information on a number of topics between experts on the European tanning and leather industry.

Considering the momentum being generated from forums and the high-profile attendance from international attendees, Freiberg Leather Days is further establishing itself as a conference to prioritise for the European tanning and leather industry.

This year, co-organisers The Association for Chemistry and Technology in Tanning (VGCT), and The Research Institute of Leather and Plastic Sheeting (FILK), offered a forum for all experts and specialists of the tanning and leather industry to meet colleagues, and discuss current issues and ideas in a more intimate setting, away from the larger trade fairs.

Apart from the social dinners and awards ceremony, underscoring the event were the core discussions, held over two days. The range of topics was as broad as it is disciplined and included the below.

The leather industry to the year 2025 – Recent and Future Trends by Paul Pearson, secretary, International Council of Tanners

In looking forward, this study begins by reviewing where the industry is now and what the trends are, before trying to predict where the industry will be in 2025. A few key points included:

  • the value chain in international trade, for hides, skins leather and leather products is enormous
  • global leather production continues to grow, albeit slowly
  • leather production is high
  • hide and skin production is increasing globally, but with some differences
  • while world meat production is increasing quite quickly, over 70% of all meat produced is pig meat or poultry.

A main outcome of this is that leather production is growing, on a long-term basis, by just under 1% a year, and while there are short-term fluctuations, potential demand for leather is increasing at a significantly stronger rate. This means that there is long-term pressure on hide supplies and prices, which is particularly true for Europe, where reduced supplies combined with increasing exports threaten to reduce available domestic supplies to zero.

A pointer for the future emerged from a study of export statistics of leather and leather products, and comparing volumes and value. A more detailed analysis of the value of exports of leather and genuine leather products demonstrated that Italy exports a higher value of these items than any other country.

The main conclusion was that there are opportunities for traditional, high-cost producers in the industry that can focus on quality and value-added products. Some consumers will pay high prices for quality leather products, and leather-makers should aim to continue to supply this market and try to share the revenues.

Dedicated to the European Leather Industry by Gustavo Gonzalez-Quijano, secretary-general, Cotance

Cotance is the representative organisation of Europe’s Tanning industry. Its structure and functioning reflects the sector, and corresponds to the ambitions and needs of the industry.

Cotance fulfils several essential roles; it is the link between its members, ensuring the exchange of sector information among them; it is the sector’s embassy in the capital of Europe, and therefore the voice of the industry and the interface with EU authorities, as well as the interlocutor with stakeholders on matters with a cross-national dimension; and it is the employer side of the sector’s social partners developing the leather industry.

Referencing social dialogue at a European level, it was heard that Cotance defends the following principles and values:

  • trade: reciprocity, free and fair access to markets and raw materials, and the avoidance/reduction of technical barriers to trade
  • industry: defence and promotion of the identity, image and reputation of leather; development of common standards; improving relations in the supply and value chain; technological research, development and innovation
  • social: sound structures for education and training in the leather sector, ethical working conditions and fighting against social and environmental dumping
  • environment: cleaner production, sound operational framework conditions for tanneries, and fair rules on chemicals and on environmental footprinting.

Cotance is also active on all matters of concern to the industry decided by its council, and/or arising as a response to EU policies and legislation, and is active in EU projects, as a promoter of initiatives, as a fundraiser in Brussels or as a technical partner in activities developed by members or stakeholders.

pH measurements and grain quality evaluation associated with mould growth on wet-blue leather by Dr Luis A Zugno, Buckman International

Mould growth on wet-blue brings chemical changes, particularly on the leather’s surface. Recently, it has been discussed whether the pH would increase or decrease on the surface of the moulded leather; however, the data is not complete. This paper’s objective is to measure the pH on the moulded wet-blue leather surface where known and wild moulds have grown, and compare it with the superficial pH on areas without mould. Surface electrodes will be used to measure the pH on bovine wet-blue leather surfaces.

The moulded areas were compared with non-moulded areas by optical and electron microscope to evaluate grain damage not associated to mould growth.

New retanning chemistry on the base of biopolymers by Dr Dietrich Tegtmeyer, Lanxess Deutschland

Although the state-of-the-art technology level for leather manufacturing could be considered ‘sustainable’, there is still room for improvement. In particular, the use of natural resources as basic raw materials as well as the reuse of production by-products will become a stronger sustainability driver or key performance criteria in the future. In this presentation, a new range of retanning chemicals was presented, which promised to give advantages in four areas:

  • waste reduction and the reuse of current waste material
  • reduction of salt and COD in the effluent of process water
  • replacement of fossil-based chemicals with bio-based renewable raw materials
  • minimisation of residues of restricted substances.

After the explanation of principles of the chemical design, technical performance results were explained based on feedback.

Reduction of COD in the production of chrome-free leathers by Eric Poles, Silvachimica

The measurement of COD indicates the amount of oxygen in milligrams per litre needed to completely oxidise a substance or liquid by chemical means. It is one of the most important parameters for measuring pollution in an effluent. Many governments impose strict regulations regarding the amount of chemical oxygen demand allowed on discharge. For example, in Italy, for discharge in sewage, 500ppm of COD is allowed, while for discharge in surface water (rivers or channels) the tolerance is 160ppm maximum. In the tannery districts in Italy, the amount of COD accepted in entrance to the treatment plant varies from 3,000ppm to 10,000ppm. In this discussion, the problem of high values of COD in chrome-free formulations was evaluated.

The comparison of the COD of FOC leathers and chrome leathers had also been made. The application of single retanning agents and fatliquors were evaluated, as well as the parameters that can affect the final COD in wastewater, in particular the:

  • choice of the retanning agent/fatliquor
  • temperature of process
  • time
  • effect of using amphotheric retanning agents on cod of retannage/fatliquor
  • system for recycling of process liquors has being established.

Laws and Regulations on the Measurement of Leather by Bruno Burato, GER Elettronica Montecchio Maggiore, and Marc Oomens, im innovating

During the lecture, how the measuring of leather has been developed from past to present was explained; what kind of area and thickness measurements are possible today; what kind of automation has been developed to optimise the control, print and storage of the gained data (area and thickness); and what the future might bring regarding measuring and automatic packaging machines. Where before, more or less every country had its own system and institute to control the measuring technology, since 2006, this has been settled by European law. The lecture informed the audience about the status of this European law and how it is expected to be controlled in practice.

Also, a very new development was explained: the thickness measurement of the grains directly after lime splitting, to directly obtain the necessary input of the thickness, before the tanning process.

Left to right: Dr Thomas Schröer of VDL, Osman Yildirimof of Bader Leder, Achim Kolesch of Altsämischgerberei Jürgen Kolesch, Gustavo Gonzalez-Quijano of Cotance, Ayhan Yildirim of Bader Leder, and Thomas Strebost of HELLER-LEDER.

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