Among the range of services available to tanners and footwear manufacturers, technicians can produce specially designed skins according to their requirements. Facilities include a prototype laboratory and a chemical analysis lab as well as a tannery pilot plant.

3D and CAD/CAM technology are used in footwear design and the centre designs complete collections of footwear for local manufacturers.

The creative concepts prioritise comfort and the designs can be adapted to different types and sizes of lasts. Trend information, which influences footwear creation, comes from Anpic or Cicur; alternatively designs may be supplied by the client.

Ciatec also offers education and training to tannery workforces. An example of this is the ‘Masters in technical tannery management’ run in conjunction with the EUETII Technical School in Igualada, Spain. Subjects covered by the course include tanning processes, chemistry, finishing, tanning machinery, wastewater and environmental technology.

The qualification is known as an ‘especialización’ in Mexico but a ‘Masters’ in Spain. Students spend four weeks at the Spanish institution carrying out practical work in the laboratories and pilot plant as well as making their final presentations. The first generation of students will travel to Igualada this year.

As the sector in Mexico becomes increasingly conscious of its ecological impact, Ciatec’s most profitable department last year was the environmental investigation laboratory which clients such as Pemex Petrochemicals hired to develop a clean technology process. The centre specialises in water treatment and offer ISO 14000 certification for tanneries.

In addition, they have begun to develop a manual of best practice for Central American tanneries which describes everything from traditional techniques to best practice, to promote more up-to-date and less polluting methods such as recirculating water and deliming with CO2. Ciatec technicians will offer training courses to supplement the manual in countries such as Nicaragua. Current environmental investigations include:

* Regeneration of eroded areas by planting particular shrubs which have the potential to produce tannins, thus helping to reforest the area. The selected trees are resistant, able to survive with very little water and attract insects thus diversifying the biosphere. After five years the tannins will be ready to harvest. Mexican tanners currently import quebracho so this initiative will reduce their dependence on imports.

* Other projects include the reuse of sludge from the beamhouse processes. Researchers are currently looking for a market for the keratin extracted from hair in the sludge.

Ciatec is financed 80% through government subsidy and 20% through income revenue, which is then reinvested into the centre.