INSIDE CI: Recognizing Opportunities

As I write this column, a winter storm has closed schools and businesses in my area (and, indeed, in much of the state) for the second day, and the snow continues to fall. The wind isn't helping matters, either; snow drifts are piled several inches above my office windows. I spent hours shoveling the stuff last night, discovering muscles I didn't know I had, but that I'm now reminded of every time I move.

I know I'm destined to do more shoveling today, or else we'll be good and stuck, but I'm not going to think about that right now. It's really too bad I can't rig my dogs with some kind of a snow plow. Their enthusiasm for snow knows no bounds, and I'm sure they'd be more than happy to help out. They say necessity is the mother of invention, so perhaps I'll need to take a closer look at that option as the storm progresses.

Every so often, it's not necessity that motivates us, but opportunity. Of course, sometimes it's difficult to recognize opportunities; they're often disguised as obstacles. We're covering a perfect example of that phenomenon in this issue of CI (see "A Superior Opportunity"). When faced with the sudden closure of its quartz machining service provider, this manufacturer of lamps for applications ranging from cinema to spot lighting could have simply found another company to handle its machining needs. Instead, it purchased the provider's assets, launched an entirely new division, and entered the quartz and ceramic machining market for itself. The gamble has paid off handsomely, and the company recently built a new $4.8-million facility so it can continue to expand its business.

A new machining option could provide manufacturers with the opportunity to reduce costs and improve efficiencies (see "Photo-Machining"). The process combines photoresists with abrasive etching to precisely machine materials ranging from alumina and boron carbide to mullite and zirconia. Potential applications include drilling holes in thin wafer materials, creating detailed relief and channel patterns, selective coating removal, and surface texturing.

We're also featuring the ever-popular Pottery Production Practices in this issue, and Managing Editor Brian Hayes shares a story of two potters who took a leap and went into business for themselves (see "Shark Mode"). Perhaps their success is the result of their ambition, their youth, and their willingness to work almost until they drop, but these two friends were shrewd enough to see an opportunity and grasp it-and they've marshaled their love of ceramics, their drive and talent into a successful enterprise.

I can hardly believe it, but the snow is falling even faster now, and the fierce wind is causing regular white-outs beyond my windows. I've heard the plow go by several times on the main road, but there's been no sign of it here. I believe I'll use this opportunity to enjoy the scenery, comfortable and snug indoors (well, as snug as can be expected in a drafty old house), and have another cup of coffee.


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