Inside CI: Supply And Education

When I attend industry shows, I always enjoy watching the other attendees. Every once in awhile, someone will know exactly what he or she is looking for and will make a beeline for the exhibits that carry that product. But for the most part, people just wander around aimlessly, poking, prodding and perusing a bit of everything. Rather than looking for a particular solution to a particular problem, these attendees are at the show to find out what’s new in terms of technology, and to learn how they can apply those innovations to improve their businesses.

Philip J. Quigley, former CEO of Pacific Telesis, once captured this sentiment in an excellent analogy: “If we were to go back in time 100 years and ask a farmer what he’d like if he could have anything, he’d probably tell us he wanted a horse that was twice as strong and ate half as many oats. He would not tell us he wanted a tractor. Technology changes things so fast that many people aren’t sure what the best solutions to their problems might be.”*

In the ceramic industry, this is true on both the purchasing and selling side of the business. Each year, dozens of innovations are achieved in materials and equipment technology, which in turn help ceramic manufacturers develop more innovative products. In instrumentation, for instance, new technology to measure zeta potential using electroacoustic principles is making it possible to characterize the most miniscule of nano-particles, and thus ensure the quality of high-tech ceramics (see “Characterizing Particles in Nano-Powder Regimes,” CI Feb. 2001). A new instrument based on flow porometry is now available to measure the pore structure of individual layers in multi-layered and functionally graded ceramics, ensuring the effectiveness of such materials (see “Measuring in Layers,” CI Feb. 2001). And numerous other advances in testing and quality control will be showcased at PITTCON 2001, to be held March 4-9 in New Orleans, La. (see the show preview, CI Feb. 2001).

While these new instruments may solve old problems for some manufacturers, they will also open the door to new opportunities for many. And then it will be the ceramic manufacturers’ turn—to take our product innovations and sell them to the construction, electronics, biomedical and numerous other industries. Many of these industries will not even be aware that they need such advancements, and so it becomes our responsibility, like our suppliers, to educate them about the benefits and potential applications through press releases, magazine articles and show exhibits. In this way, the circle remains unbroken, and the markets are driven not just by supply and demand, but also by supply and education.

One hundred years ago, few ceramic manufacturers could have envisioned that high-tech instruments would someday be used to analyze the quality of their products, and few companies would have thought that ceramics could be used as bone replacements, computer components and fuel cells. But here we are.

Where we’ll be in the next one hundred years is limited only by our imaginations.

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