India’s micro-spinning invention

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Ma. Isabel Ongpin

JUST back from a week in India to check out a small feature of their textile industry. India is a huge country with a huge population and is a subcontinent shared with Pakistan and Bangladesh.

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Our interest as members of HABI: The Philippine Textile Council was to check out how they manage their small- and medium-scale textile businesses which have brought them both the domestic and the export markets as stable paying clients.

To begin with, because of their ancient culture and practices where garments as everyday wear, ceremonial and ritual accoutrements, as well as serving as identifying marks of caste and profession, they have perhaps one of the most varied and unique garment industries in the world. The materials are all indigenous or available in the environment – silk from cocoon farms, cotton from cotton crops.

While in ancient times, India had used handlooms, the immensity of the markets they service has led them to mechanize spinning and weaving and perhaps also planting and harvesting. What is interesting is that while mechanization helps do more and better, labor is not shunted aside but used all along, if not in the growing of the crops and harvesting, then in weaving and spinning.

The Indian textile industry today uses power looms that can produce their indigenous fabrics, i.e. Madras, white and colored cotton cloth, silk cloth for saris and other uses. They produce in quantity to meet market demand.
HABI was particularly interested in the small textile businesses using power looms. So, from our jump-off point in Chennai (formerly Madras) we drove to Erode which is the textile center of South India. There we saw a micro-spinning facility which converts raw cotton (after ginning) into spools of what they term “slivers,” which are eventually spun into whatever grades of thread are required, 20/2, 30/2, etc. in a few steps and readied for dyeing, which is also a mechanized process, done separately in another facility. All of the above are done on a small scale, like a village business. The micro-spinning facility uses minimal electricity, one-phase current like for a household. And electricity in India costs 6 rupees per kilowatt hour (less than P5).

We also saw a dyeing facility which was small but had modern equipment that could produce exact shades of color as specified by the market orders. And using natural dyes at that, which means utilizing the resources of the natural environment like Indian plants which make for lower costs.

What HABI was most interested in was the micro-spinning machine which can take a minimum of 65 kilograms of cotton a day and can ramp up to higher numbers, or as much as195 kg in 24 hours. This machine is the solution to a Third World need for small cotton harvests, where the presence of a nearby spinning facility will enable farmers to sell their cotton without incurring uneconomical transport costs. We do not have that here. A micro-spinning facility in the harvest area would give added value to the cotton and enable the farmer to command a higher price for the thread spun from it.

Moreover, the simplicity of the machine requires no complicated education or training and can be run by villagers who have been taught and practiced to do so. It is ideal for cotton farming communities, as it would mean saving on spinning, transport and labor costs.

Indeed, India’s engineering prowess honed by its famed engineering schools has addressed a good number of Third World problems and provided the country with Third World but adequate solutions. This means inexpensive, simple and easy to maintain machines that are not complicated or capital-intensive to operate. The micro-spinning machine we saw was designed by an engineer graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology whom we met and who explained its operation to us. He and his wife are social entrepreneurs, educated Indians who give back to their country and fellow citizens. Their invention helps the farmers get a better return for their work. There is no overdesign in this micro-spinning machine; it is made to spin quickly and efficiently at minimum cost, and optimum results relying on ordinary maintenance.

This is sorely needed in this country now that the Department of Agriculture is seriously promoting the growing of cotton, something which we had in great quantity in the past but was allowed to decline, resulting in the loss of this natural fiber that is in demand in our weaving industry.

HABI, with the Department of Science and Technology, is seriously contemplating bringing in a micro-spinning machine and setting it up in Panay to service the cotton harvests there and be able to provide the thousands of Panay weavers a stable supply of cotton thread.

The agriculture department’s policy of expanding cotton acreage would have a better chance of succeeding if there is a cotton spinning machine nearby.

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