Einstein Science Reporting for Kids
[ E-mail ]

Contact: Karina De Castris
European Space Agency

Space 'eye' gives cloth quality colour control

A camera developed for Earth observation is now used to identify colour faults in textile production Credits: AP Photo/Elaine Thompson
Click here for a full image.

Every year, European textile companies lose 800 million by throwing away 160 million metres of dyed fabrics. At the same time, 8,000 tonnes of dyes and chemicals have to be 'cleaned' to prevent pollution.

Much of this waste is produced because it is very difficult to control and check the colours in the cloth. Now, a space system developed for checking the use of farm chemicals is coming to the rescue. Back on Earth, it is proving to be better than people at recognising colour changes in textiles.

This is not easy to do. The human eye can recognise more than 30,000 different colours.

The innovative machine Coltex to monitor colour variations during textile production uses a 'space eye', a special camera developed for remote sensing, to identify colour variations
Click here for a high resolution photograph.

The automated 'eye' scans the fabric as it flows past at high speed up to 100 metres a minute. It works by checking a line across the material and measuring the colour of several areas along this line. The camera can recognise thousands of colours, spot mistakes in the dyeing and even identify changes in colour shades. The outcome is better quality textiles, reduced waste and lowered costs.

Backed by ESA's Technology Transfer Programme, five European companies have now developed the first commercial system, called Coltex.

In 2004 five machines were sold to textile companies in Italy. Five more machines are to be produced in 2005.

"We are now looking into other areas where novel technologies, such as those developed for space, can improve textile production in Europe," said Denis Cardella, Coltex Project Manager for Italian company IRIS DP.