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What do you do when your main product becomes a commodity? For some companies, the answer is to ship production offshore to capitalize on low-cost labor. But chasing price will eventually lead to a dead end-there will always be a lower-priced producer for commodities.
A smarter strategy is to reexamine your value proposition. What can your products provide that others can't? If you're drawing a blank, perhaps it's time to find a way to add more value to your product line.
Advanced materials can help. For example, some manufacturers are using refractory metal chlorides to pursue alternative deposition techniques for semiconductors, improve the performance of fuel cells and batteries, synthesize nanomaterials, create new ceramic matrix composites with extremely high melting points, and develop advanced optical thin films. Used as additives, catalysts or starting materials for more complex compounds, the chlorides rarely show up in the final products, but they contribute to increased quality and advanced capabilities.
Nanomaterials, long a favorite topic of materials scientists and researchers, are finding their way out of the laboratory and into commercial applications such as refractories, where they are providing enhanced flow behavior, hot strength, thermal shock resistance, oxidation and acid resistance, and bond strength compared to conventional technologies. And a range of additives and specialty chemicals is being used to improve the quality and performance of ceramic and glass products.
As today's ceramic and glass manufacturers look for new ways to compete in increasingly tough markets, material suppliers and equipment developers are creating new opportunities to push the envelope and develop advanced solutions.
P.S. Speaking of new capabilities, I've recently taken on some of my own-parenting! My husband and I became the proud adoptive parents of a beautiful baby boy in September. I'm taking some time off to bond with our new little addition but will be back in mid-December. In the meantime, please direct any feedback or questions you might have about Ceramic Industry to Susan Sutton at email@example.com.
Christine Grahl is the Editor of Ceramic Industry magazine. She can be contacted at 3610 Elmview St., West Bloomfield, MI 48324; (248) 366-2503, fax (248) 502-1045 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.