Article >> Shuttleless looms and its manufacturing in India -Past, Present and Future

Shuttleless looms and its manufacturing in India -Past, Present and Future

A natural question comes to every concerned person in the country, why are there are no manufacturers of high quality high speed shuttleless looms in the country?

If we try to analyse the issues, we will find that there are lot of complexities in the overall ecosystem which were/are responsible for this mess. All the stakeholders are responsible in some way or the other for this unfortunate situation.

If we look at the history, the powerloom manufacturing started in India arround 1940s. Those were plain looms. Thereafter drop-box loom 2x1, 4x1 and pick & pick loom 4x4 were developed. Obviously, these looms were copies of English looms.

In early 1960s automatic pirn changing shuttle looms came in the Indian market.  Some were fitted with auto pirn winding &feeding (unifil) attachment. Auto pirn winding machine was an essential requirement for such looms. Northrop Looms of UK,  Ruti looms, Switzerland and Sakamoto, Japan were the prominent manufacturers.

Actually the automatic loom came into existence in the year 1909.  Northrop working for the Draper Corporation in Hopedale, UK, produced the fully automatic Northrop Loom which recharged the shuttle when the pirn was empty. The Draper E and X model became the leading products from 1909 until they were challenged by the different characteristics of synthetic fibres.

Since the Indian market was protected in earlier years and there was acute shortage of foreign exchange, the import of such looms used to be under licensing system. The foreign players didnot have any other option but to agree for collaboration. Lakshmi Automatic Loom Works (LAL), Hosur and CIMMCO, Gwalior  collaborated  with Ruti and Sakamoto respectively.  Initially National Machinery Manufacturing Co, Mumbai collaborated with Ruti to produce Ruti-B looms, while LAL took up the manufacturing of Ruti-C advanced loom.

All these looms ruled the Indian textile industry for 2 decades. All the major textile companies went for installation of these high productive looms. It did not mean that the plain looms were being replaced in a big way.

By the time automatic looms were manufactured in India, the shuttleless looms came into existence in Europe. It was well before in 1941 in the form of Projectile loom & Rapier loom.  From 1942, the faster and more efficient shuttleless Sulzer looms and the rapier looms were introduced. Today, advances in technology have produced a variety of looms designed to maximize production for specific types of material. The most common of these are air-jet looms and water-jet looms.

The textile industry in those days(1950s to 1970s and early 80s) were suffering from the draconian rules of replacement permission, sale permission, scrapping permission etc. under the erstwhile Cotton Textile Control Order 1948. When the need was felt that modernisation was necessary, limited replacement of machinery was permitted in the organised weaving sector (Mills Sector). Otherwise, the expansion of weaving capacity was not permissible in the Mills sector. This policy was adopted by the Central Government during 1960s. The thinking was there that Handloom and Powerloom sector would be able to supply the fabric needed by the people of the country. In those days the champions of Handloom sector wanted only development of that sector depriving organised mills & powerloom sectors. The amount of subsidy spent (wasted) over the period of so many years (continuing till date) would have made the country self sufficient in weaving technology had the same money was used for weaving machinery development.

Unfortunately, the preference was given to decentralised powerloom sector which came up with the obsolete technology and still striving for the same.  At the same time, the numbers of handlooms dwindle over the years. The handloom centres which were once upon a time used to make dhoties, sarees and dress materials became unprofitable due to the circumstances beyond anybody’s control. Any mass production item is no longer profitable on handloom. That is the reason why Ichhalkarji, Solapur, Doddaballapur and even Varanasi are now using powerlooms. Handlooms are becoming extinct practically but their number remained constant in Government record for the purpose of subsidy. This needs no elaboration.

Powerlooms came into existence in a big way so much so that today its population reached the level of almost 25 lakhs in the country. This of course includes 120000 shuttleless looms (80% second hand) and may be 40000 automatic shuttle looms. The technology upgradation scheme of the Government could not upgrade the technology of the decentralised powerloom sector in a big way because over the period of last 13 years only 90000 shuttleless looms were added (say @only 7000 looms per annum on an average). Due to presence of large number of second hand shuttleless looms, 50% of which are over 30 years old, we can guess how much the modernisation had really taken place.

It is unfortunate that a large country like India is still considering the import of old outdated technology in the name of modernisation under subsidy scheme. It is clear that our technological obsolescence is going to stay forever unless of course some changes in the mindset set in.

Under this backdrop if we analyse the failed attempts of the domestic machinery manufacturers, we can perhaps understand the reasons why such attempts were not successful.

First attempt was made by CIMMCO Ltd, Gwalior in collaboration with Dornier, Germany to make Rigid Rapier Shuttleless Loom during 1980s. This attempt could not be successful due to various factors. One greatest factor was that there was Textile Mills strike in Mumbai. The composite mill structure was breaking slowly. The textile strike enhanced the process of breaking up in Mumbai.

The demand for such shuttleless looms was insufficient. The existing infrastructure of CIMMCO was not adequate to develop the critical components of the loom. The vendors also were not capable of doing the same. The ultimate result was inevitable that the quality of the indigenous looms were not upto the mark. Insufficient domestic demand prevented the manufacturer to upgrade their manufacturing capability. In those days the domestic machine tool sector was also in the nascent stage. All these factors spoiled the reputation of the product as well as the company.

Attempts were made by Mafatlal Engineering Ltd in collaboration with SACM France. While Dornier Loom was excellent, this loom was not so. Anyhow it also had the same fate. Efforts made by Lakshmi Automatic Loom works with conversion kit from Italy could not be successful. Incidentally it may be pointed out all these three manufacturers were highly successful in manufacturing Automatic shuttle loom. Then why they failed? May be they were not equipped to do it. The market was not helping or vice versa. The whole situation was unfortunate. It is needless to mention that there had been import of second-hand shuttleless looms during those days also as people preferred such loom without going for new looms because of price. This means the basic problem remains the same that is preference of old technology against new technology due to unnatural cost advantage. The soft loan scheme of the Government was also available for used machinery.

Later years during 1990s, some more domestic companies made attempt again to fail. During late 90s, makers of powerloom tried to develop cheaper version of shuttleless looms. There was encouragement from the TUF Scheme. Some of them became successful in marketing their product. But the progress was very slow. They had to compete with cheaper Chinese looms as well as old shuttleless looms. The fight continues till today.

It is needless to mention that our manufacturers have become successful to make Airjet Loom and Waterjet Looms and also high speed rapier looms. We should be proud of it that without any assistance from any corner these manufacturers spent their own resources to develop these items. But instead of helping them to manufacture and make further improvement, both the Government and the user industry continue their efforts to import the old used looms at cheaper price as low as 1.5 lakh to 5 lakh which is even cheaper than the raw material cost in India. This type of discouragement is unheard of in any developed country.

The user sector compares the prices of Chinese looms and praise china for the development of shuttleless looms, however they do not consider the fact the China has stopped import of second hand machinery long back. They forced the European manufacturers to set their manufacturing establishment in China. As a result, today they are the largest manufacturer of Textile machinery in the world. But where are we?

During the period of last three/four years TMMA and CII was representing to the Government to stop the menace of the used machinery import in the country. Our continuous efforts were successful to change the approach of the Government to some extent. But again the spoilsport is the User sectors who do not desire the indigenous development.They do not understand one thing that today if the domestic manufacturers stop the production of whatever developments they did, tomorrow the prices of all types of imported looms will go up substantially. It would be in the interest of the user sector the there should be a strong base of domestic machinery.

Now if we analyse the figures of import during the last 5 years as given below:-



Items of Looms Imported






















(Rs. cr)

(Rs. cr)




New Air jet Looms












Second hand Air jet Loom












New Rapier Looms












Secondhand Rapier Loom












Secondhand Projectile Loom












New Waterjet Looms












Second land Water jet Loom
























Second hand loom import%













The above situation is very alarming. If this is allowed to continue in this manner, there is no future for the domestic producers of shuttleless looms and the textile industry, the decentralised powerloom sector would continue to depend on the obsolete technology for ages.  

User V/S manufacturers

The argument of the domestic user sector in favour of second hand shuttleless loom is that

  1. Indigenous machines are not good
  2. Domestic manufacturers are not capable of supplying the machinery
  3. Imported second hand machines are of better technology than domestic new machines
  4. The decentralised sector units are small and financially not sound enough to buy new machines for modernisation

Our reply is that

  1. What kind of modernisation is there with imported second hand machines and how much is it really helping to boost export of textiles. It is a matter of question.
  2. While the users are not buying the indigenous machines how bad are they? At the same time there are many unhappy users of second hand shuttleless looms and some have tried to sell their machinery also. There are both success and failure stories of used machinery.
  3. During the last 5 years about 30,000 shuttleless looms had been imported and almost 80% of them (i.e. 24,000) are second hand. There are almost 25 lakh looms in the country out of which only 1.10 lakh or 1.20 lakh is shuttleless looms.
  4. If there is no import of second hand shuttleless looms for a period of 5 years it would not seriously affect the modernisation process of the user sector. At the same time, the domestic manufacturers will be encouraged to develop and manufacture better quality shuttleless looms as demand will increase. Further, the foreign manufacturers will be encouraged to come to India either through JV or FDI.
  5. Unless the domestic industry is protected against the onslaught of second hand and cheap machinery there is no future for them. At the same time the user industry will continue to depend on imported used machinery and make India the dumping ground of junk.
  6. This will jeopardise the growth of the domestic Industry and pull the IIP down in the long run.
  7. Further indigenous development will not happen and there may not be any JV or FDI.


Somebody raised a question that if there is FDI what will be the benefit for the domestic industry. The answer is why china encouraged FDI and what the present position is. Today due to availability of technology, they are almost ruling the world in textile machinery.


Someone also mentioned that the poor powerloom weavers cannot afford new looms. We do not buy this argument as there appears to be no example that the poor owner of 4 powerlooms imported the second hand shuttleless loom. Practically, there are number of small units in large sheds on paper to circumvent Government rules which need no elaboration. When will we realize the basic issues and take remedial measures?


Problems and solutions


  1. It is needless to mention that the import of second hand (used) machines is doing incalculable harm to the textile machinery manufacturing industry in India. 

  1. The statistics show that a large number of cheap weaving machines are imported from China under the TUFS. Similar technology, though available locally is not preferred.

  1. Similar technology machines (shuttleless looms) are manufactured in the country and there are number of manufacturers with the capacity to produce 15000 shuttleless looms per annum while the average demand for such loom is not more than 10000 nos. per annum in general. Further, the number of manufacturers of shuttleless looms in the country is increasing. Already more than 16 manufacturers are existing today. The number is going to swell within a span of  two years if there is proactive policy from the Government.

  1. Thus the incentive (capital subsidy) and nil import duty provided by the Government is indirectly helping the Chinese manufacturers to market their product in India.  These Chinese manufacturers are thus getting the subsidy twice.  One from their own Government to export their product(@11%) – another from Indian Government to market the same in India (nil import duty +capital subsidy). 

  1. There is no benchmarking for these Chinese manufacturers – no ISO Certification while our manufacturers are subjected to such compulsory practices.
  2. The principle of natural justice demands equal treatment to the Chinese machinery manufacturers or, the system should be done away with.

  1. The Government thus indirectly created a barrier for the Indian manufacturers while the foreign manufacturers, specifically the Chinese, are enjoying at the cost of domestic manufacturers. 

  1. The second issue is the import of second hand machinery under the subsidy scheme.  There appears to be no reason why it should be allowed under a subsidy scheme for modernization purposes, specifically when the Planning Commission in its XIth plan document recorded the same.

  1. Any 5 year old machinery is normally good and capable of giving good performance.  Therefore the same may be allowed for import but not under a subsidy scheme.

  1. If the import figures are analysed, it will be found that average cost of second hand weaving machinery in general is approx. 5 lakhs.  Why subsidy should be given to such machines which are already cheap?

  1. As a matter of fact, subsidy under the modernization schemes should not be given to any second hand Shuttleless weaving machines. If this is done, perhaps it would be possible for domestic industry to compete even with the second hand weaving machinery imported without subsidy to a certain extent.

So do we need a strong domestic Shuttleless weaving machine manufacturers? If we need, what policy the Government should adopt?

Can we expect some proactive action from the Government?-------Mirage-------------?

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