Inside CI: Cut it Out

Talk to the ceramic and glass manufacturers that have figured out how to be successful in today's challenging manufacturing environment, and you're likely to run across a common theme. Whether they call it automation, streamlining or "lean manufacturing," the concept is the same-excess (labor, time, waste, etc.) has been cut out of the process, thereby allowing these companies to reduce costs while improving quality and their bottom lines.

In many cases, switching to this successful business model requires companies to take a hard look at their current operations and make some changes based on the current best practices and available technologies in the industry. For example, is extrusion or pressing really the best way to produce small, detailed components? In low-volume and/or specialty operations, that might be the case-but what about high-volume production? Some companies are finding that injection molding allows them to produce net-shaped or near-net-shaped pieces, thereby cutting out time-consuming and labor-intensive machining operations. Steps within the injection molding process itself-such as creating or purchasing binders, and formulating and mixing compounds-can also be eliminated by using ready-made compounds specifically developed for that purpose. Additionally, excess compound can be recycled back into the process, thereby reducing waste. (See,2710,150971,00.html.)

In whiteware manufacturing, producing and attaching cup handles is a common sticking point. Plants have traditionally had to employ individuals to make plaster molds for the handles, cut and finish the handles, prepare slip to attach the handles, manually place the handles into an attaching unit or apply the handles to the cups, and finish the handle attaching points. Needless to say, the process is both time-consuming and labor-intensive. However, with modern technology, plants can automate the entire cup making process-including handle casting and attachment. In addition to streamlining labor requirements, such systems can also reduce waste and improve manufacturing flexibility. (See,2708,150968,00.html.)

Quality control operations are also benefiting from streamlined operations. For example, the complicated, time-consuming microscopy techniques used to characterize the shape of abrasive particles can now be replaced by automated digital imaging technologies. In some cases, these technologies can also be used in production to pinpoint when the abrasives start to become less effective, thereby optimizing the efficiency of grinding and polishing processes. (See,2710,150978,00.html.)

Still other plants are opting to eliminate such material characterizations altogether, outsourcing them instead to labs that specialize in analytical services. (See,2710,150980,00.html.)

Virtually every manufacturing operation has areas of excess that can be trimmed away to leave a much stronger, leaner organization. By implementing modern technologies and processes, today's plants can optimize productivity, quality-and profits.

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