INSIDE CI: Constant Evolution

Comments from CI Editor Kristi Grahl.

What if the key to success were as simple as trying something new? If you could guarantee your company a competitive market position by implementing a new technology or process, or pursuing new products or applications, wouldn't you want to give it a shot?

Of course, success can never be guaranteed in the real world, and implementing a new technology or strategy is usually anything but simple. However, smart companies in the ceramic industry are increasingly betting on change as the strategy most likely to improve their bottom lines and propel them ahead of their competition.

For instance, Ceradyne, a market leader in ceramic armor and other advanced ceramic products, recently jumped at the chance to grow exponentially through the acquisition of ESK, a German-based manufacturer of industrial technical ceramics. Ceradyne's sales have experienced double-digit increases over the last several years as demand for ceramic armor has skyrocketed, and it doesn't look like the pace will be slowing any time soon. But for Ceradyne's president and chief executive officer, Joel Moskowitz, growing in existing markets isn't good enough. With the acquisition of ESK, which is expected to be completed in the third quarter of 2004, the two companies will have a much more diversified product line (52% in industrial ceramics, 36% in defense, 7% in automotive and 5% in commercial applications), a vertically integrated ceramic armor business (with ESK supplying the boron carbide powder and Ceradyne manufacturing the components), and a global market presence (59% to the U.S. and 41% international). (See the Ceramics in the News story in this issue for more information about the acquisition agreement.)

On the other end of the spectrum, pottery producers are also finding increased success by embracing change. When skilled potters John Petree and Susan Davy first started their respective businesses, neither could have guessed that they would one day be using a press with a resin die to turn out hundreds of pieces per week. But when the opportunity presented itself, they were willing to take it-and the result has forever altered the direction of their businesses. (See the special Pottery Production Practices section of this issue.)

Recognizing that new approaches are needed to help ceramic manufacturers improve their products, suppliers are responding accordingly. For instance, a new coating technology has been developed that actually impregnates the coating material into the substrate, thereby providing greater adhesion, purity, corrosion protection, wear resistance and uniformity compared to conventional coating processes. And material suppliers are increasingly helping their customers develop unique formulations and even marketing strategies that can help companies compete on a global scale. (See "Investing in Ceramics," as well as our Online Exclusive article, "Digging for Solutions.")

Whether you're a large manufacturer or a small pottery producer, change is never easy. But the most successful companies will undoubtedly continue to be those that constantly evolve to meet the challenges that lie ahead.

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