2013 – 2016: UNITED KINGDOM
A clever scientist came up with the idea of using polymer Sferes to more effectively deliver chemicals into hides. We set up a research facility at the Institute for Creative Leather Technologies (ICLT) at the University of Northampton to develop the idea.
Early lab trials were successful and we filed for patents for the system in tanning and retanning.
Refine the System
We worked in the lab to optimise the system to reduce water and chemicals while improving the quality of leather.
It Works in Production!
Multiple production scale trials were successfully conducted with Wollsdorf tannery in Austria, proving that the system can work in a production environment with commercial retanning recipes.
2017-2018: Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Germany, Mexico
Broader Industry Validation
After successful trials at Wollsdorf, we needed to demonstrate that the system could work for any type of leather, not just automotive. So for the next two years we worked with over 20 tanneries in Europe and Mexico, using our system to make leather for many different applications: automotive, shoe, high-end fashion, heavy weight, and waterproof leathers. We worked with aniline and finished leathers, full grain and nubuck. Having conducted over 100 different demonstrations with these tanneries, we can confidently say that our system can produce better quality leather while using less water and chemicals than the traditional process.
Making it Work in Daily Production
Once we had successfully proven the use of Sferes in production scale demonstrations with numerous tanneries, we started working on how to manage large numbers of Sferes in daily production. The tanneries we did demonstrations with helped us to understand the challenges of handling Sferes. We spent the next 18 months developing a system that is low cost, quick to set-up, and easy to use for tanneries. Our system is tailored to each tannery’s specific production environment, helping them to gain the benefits from the Qualus system while minimising any disruption to their production.
SETTING OUT ON OUR OWN
Having demonstrated the system with tanneries in Europe and Mexico, and having developed the first full-scale production system at LEFARC, Qualus was ready to accelerate its development and we spun it out from Xeros by conducting a Management Buyout. This enabled us to have more flexibility in the solutions we offered to tanneries and to be more responsive to the market’s demands. Trials were conducted for the first time with a tannery in Brazil and by the end of the year we were starting to prepare for expansion in Asia, Europe and Latin America.
The pandemic had a devastating impact on much of the leather industry, particular in the footwear segment. Tanneries shut down operations for long periods and were not in a position to make new investments, particularly on a disruptive new technology. But we kept faith in the long-term value of our system for the industry. As we could not engage with customers as expected, we cut costs and focused on improving our Sfere Cleaning Station to make it lower-cost, smaller, and more efficient, winning a key Innovate UK grant to continue our development.
INTRODUCTION OF QUALUS-AS-A-SERVICE
As the leather industry started to emerge from the pandemic-driven downturn, we realised that tanneries needed a solution that would make it easier for them to adopt Sferes as they struggled to cope with continuing market uncertainties. We launched the Qualus-As-A-Service (QaaS) model which enables tanneries to start using Sferes with a low up-front investment that is typically fully paid back within 6 months. Not only is QaaS more commercially attractive for tanneries, but it also reduces the operational requirements for managing Sferes. The first market in which we introduced this concept was in India and the market demand for the Sferes under the QaaS model is far exceeding our expectations.
2022: GLOBAL EXPANSION
Qualus has spent several years demonstrating the benefits of Sferes to tanneries, listening to their concerns about using a disruptive new technology and developing systems that address these concerns. The industry now finally seems ready to start using Qualus’ Sferes at scale in production. Tanneries are proactively reaching out to enquire about our system and we are now faced with the challenge of growing fast enough to respond to this demand. What a great problem to have! Qualus expects 7x growth over the course of 2022, targeting the establishment of Qualus Service Centres which can provide the QaaS model in Europe, Mexico, Brazil, India and Vietnam by the end of the year.