AWI is working with a design company to develop and construct a proof of concept prototype of a smart shearing handpiece.
The new semi-automated handpiece, if successfully created and commercialised, has the potential to make shearing available to less experienced operators while increasing animal welfare.
The mechanical shearing handpiece has remained relatively unchanged since its development in the late 1800s.
While equipment suppliers have made incremental improvements over the years, a design and engineering company from Scotland, 4c Design, has recently identified an opportunity for fundamental change.
AWI has teamed up with 4c Design to design a new generation of shearing handpiece that incorporates the latest automation technology.
“Advancements in materials, manufacturing methods and sensing technology make this a timely moment to reconsider the fundamental process of shearing wool,” said 4c Design Director, Will Mitchell.
“Using new automation technology, we have identified an opportunity to redesign the device in a way that would de-skill and de-risk the currently difficult and complex shearing process.”
With shearers sometimes being hard to find (despite AWI’s training efforts), a semi- automated method of shearing would open up wool harvesting to a new workforce by making shearing easier. Additionally, given animal welfare is a high priority to the industry, the smart handpiece aims to deliver a humane and high-quality shear with less chance of skin cuts.
4c Design is working with AWI and consulting with Heiniger, shearing experts and sheep farmers (in Australia and the UK) to generate several potential concepts from which the most promising will be selected, developed, tested and refined. Research into ‘parallel products’ used in other industries for cutting are also being explored.
At the end of the six-month project, 4c Design aims to have designed and constructed a proof of concept prototype of the smart shearing hand tool. It will have been tested by experienced shearers to assess its performance on a purpose-built test rig (rather than sheep at this stage) and 4c Design will report back to AWI on the design’s development, the test results and feedback from stakeholder engagement. 4c Design will also define a clear route for onward development and commercialisation.
“The key area we are looking at in this new project with AWI is the shearing head of the handpiece,” Will explained.
“An adaptation of a handpiece head to the contours of a sheep’s body would increase the feasibility of a semi-autonomous method of shearing. In time, and most likely through a series of complementary steps, it could lead to a fully autonomous robotic system.”
The smart shearing hand tool will be designed so that it can be introduced simply into existing wool shed infrastructure.
4c Design is designing the proof of concept prototype with the aim of providing confidence that the final design solution will be capable of delivering the following animal welfare and user impacts:
- Substantially reduce, or eliminate, the risk of skin cuts to the sheep.
- Provide feedback to the shearer, enabling them to track activity and improve technique.
4c Design will also work towards the following desired impacts:
- Provide a method for working over sharp changes in contours of the sheep’s body