A partnership between Marks & Spencer, Shenkar College and Roaches International Ltd has led to the development of an innovative system for grading the pilling, snagging and hairiness of fabric surfaces which will now be used by M&S suppliers.

The Opti-Grade SET tabletop device uses digital cameras and a motor drive system to feed the fabric to a point where the surface is scanned.

A standardised light source is used to illuminate the fabric surface and the digital image is then processed by specially developed software. A neural network is then able to grade the fabric in a matter of seconds.

"In the past, grading techniques have been too prone to human error," explained Richard Golonko, managing director of Roaches International. "Visual assessments are subjective and can give variable results depending on the person grading.

"Opti-Grade SET automates the grading process and therefore eliminates this variability."