Wool Scanner Proving A Winner
Scanners used at airports to check passengers baggage have been modified and are now transforming the way that wool and meat is graded and sold, leading to better-quality products for overseas customers – and higher export returns.
“The Dual Energy X-ray Absorption [Dexa] scanners that are linked to computers, give instant and accurate wool yield as a percentage of the total fleece weight,” says scientist Murray Bartle, who is leading the Institute of Geological & Nuclear Sciences (GNS) project.
“The scanners can tell what’s in meat and raw wool – such as the pure-wool content, impurities and fat content.”
The scanners can he installed in the production chain and give instant feedback that enables operators to automatically class or grade the product accurately and quickly before the next stage in the production process. For example, they can measure yield and contaminants for our merino wool industry.
According to Dr Bartle, they provide the basis for the automating industry to be more efficient than conventional techniques – including the human eye – and will allow the industry to develop new high-value, niche products for overseas customers.
A scanner has been working in a Christchurch merino wool processing plant for nearly a year and Dr Bartle says the new owners are delighted with the results. The Foundation for Research, Science and Technology has funded the basic development project.
GNS is developing Dexa scanners for other industries where bulk commodities need to be graded quickly, accurately and without disruption to handling and production processes. GNS recently hosted an industry workshop on Dexa applications for the coal industry, and applications to New Zealand’s bio-security needs are being considered. There is also potential to manufacture scanners in New Zealand.
Dr Bartle was recently invited to a “nuclear technology” conference in South Africa, where he outlined his team’s work to scientists and industry.
“I got an encore because conference participants said this work was showing the way internationally,” he says. “New Zealanders don’t realise that this ‘cutting-edge’ work is happening in their own backyard.”