By Liz White, UT staffBrussels-A project funded under the EU's Fifth Framework Programme brought together ten research and manufacturing partners from Spain, Italy and Greece, to develop a system based on non-invasive microwave technology to monitor precisely polyurethane's physical and chemical properties during shoe production. The aim was to cut down the sizeable raw material losses that can occur along a show factory' production line.In a Europa report on the project, Enrique Montiel, assistant director of INESCOP, Spain's Technological Institute for Footwear and Related Industries said the task was not simple, because of PU's sensitivity and reactivity. Eventually, microwave sensors were used inside mould walls, to constantly monitor the density of liquid PU as it hardens.The Europa report points out that Europe's mass-market footwear industry, which employs nearly 290 000 workers with some Euro 8000 million in annual turnover-is under great competitive pressure from low-cost producers in Asia and elsewhere. "To survive, it must continually improve the efficiency of its production lines," the report says. In sports and casual shoes, controlling PU raw materials for good consistency is a major issue. Density is a key property to monitor. Without such a system, shoe manufacturers may not recognise that there is a problem until the material has polymerised, resulting in total batches becoming waste. The prototype developed by the Microshoe team consists of microwave sensors, database and customised signal-processing software, to analyse the data from the sensors. Two Spanish participants in the peroject-MUVER, which makes equipment for PU processing, and shoe maker Corporacion Industrial del Calzado SA-are about to commercialise the microwave system. The companies aim to have the system on the market by mid-2006 after setting up an application for a Spanish patent. "