Work Smarter, Not Harder
November 29, 2002
These days, we’re all expected to do more with less. Layoffs and plant consolidations have forced the remaining employees to handle a greater number of responsibilities, and every dollar spent on the manufacturing process must be justified by significant returns. It is no longer enough to produce high-quality products—in today’s business environment, the bottom line is the bottom line. Fortunately, today’s ceramic manufacturers can take some simple steps to increase both their productivity and manufacturing efficiencies. For example, lapping, fine grinding and polishing processes have been used interchangeably for a number of years to achieve precision finishing of flat ceramic surfaces, but these three techniques are not equal when it comes to the cost and speed of the machining process. In many cases, fine grinding can be used instead of lapping to achieve higher material removal rates, more precise surface finishes and faster finishing speeds. However, some key applications still exist where lapping or polishing might be more appropriate. Understanding the differences between these three finishing techniques can help manufacturers optimize their finishing operations while reducing wasted time and money. For manufacturers that use ASTM standard C1161 to test the flexural strength of their advanced ceramic products, a revised standard introduced this year (C1161-02b) seems to indicate that grinding with a smaller-grit wheel (600 vs. 320) can reduce strength degradation. However, this approach is not practical in most manufacturing operations because the material removal rate achievable with the 600-grit wheel is very low and the machining costs are high. By using adaptive machining approaches—in which the wheel grit and other grinding parameters are based on the material and its intended application—manufacturers can achieve the maximum strength characteristics with the lowest possible machining cost. Dinnerware manufacturers also have some new productivity tools at their disposal. For example, a new robotic fettling system installed at Medard de Noblat in Limoges, France, and Rosenthal in Rothb¿hl, Germany, is allowing both companies to increase the quality of their products, as well as their assortment of irregular-shaped items. Although the system required a significant capital investment, it has enabled the companies to reduce their labor costs and increase their sales, thereby helping them to remain competitive in today’s challenging tableware market. “Productivity” and “efficiency” will no doubt continue to be big buzzwords in the coming year as companies struggle to regain lost profits, and the pressure to produce more products at a higher quality and lower cost is likely to increase. With the right tools in place and a good understanding of their processes, ceramic manufacturers can streamline their operations and meet their margins without straining their resources.