Jun 22, 2015

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Cotton Picking

Understanding problem:

Cotton is used for making clothes like textile products, socks, underwear, towels and most of the T-shirts. While making of all these materials embraces lot of steps, the first step begins from growing it. Seeds are sown in the month June & July. After sowing it needs to be watered, nurtured with fertilizers protected from unwanted weed, grasses, insects & other pests. After the plant has grown when enough bolls have opened naturally. It’s time for picking cotton. For the centuries cotton has been picked by hand. It is still practiced in some parts of the world. Most of the modern countries have machinery for picking the cotton. Cotton picking is often done by women in India. They do this work by bare hands. This causes very serious health hazards like cutting hands, exposure to higher temperatures, bruises, back pain, heavy load carried by them. It also requires loads of time picking one boll at a time. This time can be well utilized to perform other tasks to live a better life. Cotton picking is not only done by women but also by men & children regularly. The load carried by them is usually more than 10 Kgs. This is a bag which is tied to their hip or carried in their hands.

Workers go to fields in the morning to start picking and continuously work till the afternoon, after lunch they work till the evening. Basically an average person picks around 20-30 Kgs a day, that makes their wage not more than 200Rs/-. While this being the financial issue there are several health hazards like: Headache, Muscle cramps, skin rashes etc…






Challenges reviewed in existing methods:

Hand Picking:

Hand picking is the traditional method used in India, Pakistan & other parts of Asia. In America hand picking is used many years ago, now cotton is harvested using machines. One of the challenging problems in hand picking of cotton is awkward posture. Some of the challenges faced are listed below:Untitled


  • Awkward hand movement to reach every single boll in the plant.
  • Cuttings in hands due to sharp edges of the boll.
  • Risk of insect bite during picking.
  • Standing posture for long hours
  • Hip and back pains
  • Carrying weights all day long
  • Bruises on legs and hands due to the plants
  • Time consuming
  • Hot temperatures
  • Child labour
  • Shortage of labour




Need to design

This includes defining the four sections of the problem. They are Who[1]? Why? What? How? Defining each of these four questions makes one understand the need to design something for a given problem.


[1]Feedback given by Prof Dinesh Korjan IIT Gandhinagar


Who: This is the part on whom we are concentrating? Is it an individual, family, or a committee? In the process of defining the problem this is the first step we have to identify.

Why: why do you want to design something for the “Who” you defined above. What is the main purpose of your design?

What: Next this is what you are going to design? Is it a machine? Or a process? Or modifying the existing solution.

How: Last thing is how you are going to do it? How you are going to bring a change in the existing methods & solutions?



The important part to define is the “Why” part of the problem. Why are you designing this product? What difference does it make after using this product? What is the main aspect of the designing of this product? How should design deal with real world problems?

Put yourself in the shoe of the other person. Deeply understand their need. Emphasize the extreme empathy. Write a screenplay of what you are going to do! How to make culturally acceptable solutions? One should try and understand the need. No solution is fit unless you try it. Go small, smaller & smaller and focus on the little things[1]. Know whom to trust and whom to ask.[2]

User context

[1]Lecture by Sanjay.E.Sarma Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Former Chairman of Research and Co-Founder of The Auto-ID Center at MIT, Boston.

[2]Feedback by Prof Anil.K.Gupta Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad


Functional Aspects:

Shape & size of the design

ü  Weight

ü  Type of material used

ü  Size

Ease of use:

ü  Usable for any type of cotton

ü  Boll picking




ü  Can be carried easily

ü  Light in weight

Storage of cotton:

ü  Carrying bags

ü  Box

Picking aspects:

ü  Time consuming

ü  Strain & pain in body

Damage issues:

ü  Plant should not be damaged

ü  No loss in bolls

ü  Should be easily movable between the lanes of cotton

Physical aspects:

Stretch of land:

ü  Cotton fields

Who will be using:

ü  Mostly women

ü  Also men

Brainstorming of ideas & problems:Untitled


ü  Extreme hot conditions

ü  High humidity

  • Distance travelled in the field

While framing a solution for an existing problem, we have to understand the user context of the solution. What the user expects from your design. There are different types of users. Desired users: The one which have the desire to use the product but can’t afford it. Potential Users: the one which have the potential to afford for the product. Active users: One which have the desire and potential to use the product.[1]


[1]By Prof Anil.K.Gupta Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad

For our field visit we met Nathubhai Rathubhai Vader a farmer & innovator in village Erwada, Patdi, Surendranagar District, Gujarat who developed a cotton picking & stripping machine. He shared his views on cotton growing & picking. He said that 80% of the Gujarat farmers grow cotton. “V797” is the type of cotton grown in this area. He built a workshop on his own to develop and experiment on his machine. During the time of picking the cotton, many faced labour shortage. Even farmers & their families would join the labourers to pluck the cotton. The shortage increased over time. Many labours go to a nearby industry to work who offered better wages. The cotton needs to be picked in a certain period of duration, otherwise the bolls fall of from the plant & get destroyed reducing the strength & hence the price. Then he got the idea of making a machine for picking the cotton. With the inspiration from villagers he was able to work on the machine and made it as it is today, he added.




Process of Growing Cotton:

Analysis of each step:

       I.            Sowing seeds:

Sowing of seeds is done by hand. It is a repetitive process of bending, putting the seed in the soil and covering the seed with soil. This often causes severe back pain & other muscle pains. Although there are many machines available in the market they often displace the seed causing the plant to grow in the undesired location.

    II.            Irrigation:

In this process the plant is watered, protected from pesticides and nurtured with fertilizers. During this process women & children are exposed to chemical fertilizers. According to WHO report 3 million pesticides poisoning & 20,000 unintentional deaths occur every year. The farmers store pesticides in their own house and use the empty vessels to carry water.

 III.            Picking:

This is the most important part of the process as the lint came out of bolls is picked during this stage. Cotton has to be picked in a specific period of time, otherwise lint drops off from the boll and the decreases the strength of the cotton.

 IV.            Selling

This is the final process of the cotton growing. At this stage the farmer takes the cotton and sells it in the market.


A design should be socially responsible. A “Socially Responsible Device (SRD)[1]is economic, eco-friendly & accepted in society. It should be culturally acceptable & user centred: Desirability (what people desire?), Feasibility (what is feasible?), and Viability (when can be viable?).

There are two perspectives of the problem. One is problems faced by labour as mentioned in the above sections, the other is the problem faced due to shortage of labours.[2] So we have a question of “Do we design a device to increase the efficiency of the labours or do we design a machine requires no labour”. So we finally decided to design something that improves the efficiency of the labours & thus increase the productivity.

We are prototyping a device that is used by manual labour mainly women to extend their hand [3]in achieving more desired results in working. By this device we try to improve the efficiency of the labour, reduce the strain in the body & reduce health hazards. This device also reduces time consumed in picking.



Existing solutions:

While the traditional picking of cotton is by hand, there are many machines developed and available in the market for this purpose. They still does not fulfil the needs and requirements of the farmers. Here are some of the products available and their review:


  1. Hand held machine:

Hand picking machine is one of the machine that has arrived in the market. Though small in size, it is not much different from hand picking. It has to be put through every boll of cotton to suck the cotton from the cotton.


  • Not much different from the hand picking method
  • Same awkward hand posture
Hand picking machine:  Untitled

Gets struck in between plants

Not user friendlyNot cost effective


  1. Harvesting:

This is a machine in which it collects the bolls from the fields and sucks the lint from the boll and harvests it. This is all one step process and it requires no labour.


  • Not affordable
  • Machine itself costs 30-40 lakhs
  • Practiced mostly in foreign countries
  • Not available for farmers in India
  • Not suitable for cotton type grown in India
  • Used only by large scale farmer
Cotton harvesting machineUntitled
  1. Nathubhai Cotton picking machine



  • Image shows Nathubhai with his cotton picking machine.
  • When he came to the agricultural field they faced shortage of labourers.Untitled
  • Farmers and their families started to pluck cotton on their own as the labourers found some other work where they get better wages.
  • Despite of this serious issue faced by the farmers he decided to do something about it.
  • He got the idea of this design in 2001 and immediately started working in it.
  • He even started a workshop on his own for this cause.
  • Blower & sucker problem
  • 1-2% loss in cotton due to dropping of bolls while vibrating.
  • Can only be used in V797 type of cotton
  • This machine cannot be used in Bt & hybrid type
  • Cotton is only picked once in a year
  • Loss of bolls for the type of cotton where they pick two times.
  • Diameter of the rotating rod should be increased so that it does not get stuck.
  • Expensive in cost(120,000-150,000)




1)      http://www.cottonsjourney.com/storyofcotton/page4.asp

2)      http://www.madehow.com/Volume-6/Cotton.html

3)      http://www.rajkumaragromachines.com/cotton-picking-machine-new-model-2011.html

4)      http://www.i-sis.org.uk/Picking_Cotton_Carefully.php

5)      http://www.i-sis.org.uk/farmersuicides.php

6)      http://www.epa.gov/ttnchie1/ap42/ch09/final/c9s03-1.pdf

7)      http://www.cottoninc.com/product/NonWovens/Nonwoven-Technical-Guide/Agricultural-Production


[1]Lecture by Prof Kate Bissett Johnson, Swinburne University of Technology.

[2] By Sanjay.E.Sarma Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Former Chairman of Research and Co-Founder of The Auto-ID Centre at MIT, Boston

[3]Prof Anil.K.Gupta Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad

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