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Inside CI: Quality Without Compromise

October 1, 2002
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When I met with Ceramic Industry’s Editorial Advisory Board earlier this year, we had a lengthy discussion about quality. More and more these days, quality has become a matter of “What can we get away with?” rather than “What can we achieve?”

Of course, it’s not entirely the manufacturers’ fault—with end users focused so much on price, manufacturers have had to do something to reclaim market share from the much cheaper imported products. Unless strict specifications are in place and the return on investment is high enough, quality tends to be the most dispensable item on the list. After all, if rigorous testing isn’t regularly performed on the end user’s side, who’s going to notice if a product doesn’t perform as claimed 100% of the time, or if a few parts in every order are out of spec? When it comes to choosing between lower cost and higher quality, the bottom line usually dictates that quality gets the short end of the stick.

But what if you didn’t have to choose? What if you could achieve lower-cost, higher-efficiency production and higher-quality products?

Today’s equipment suppliers understand that ceramic manufacturers are operating in a tough environment, and they’ve introduced a number of new developments to make both high quality and low cost manufacturing more feasible. For example, advances in hot isostatic pressing (HIPing) machines enable the systems to operate at higher temperatures and in harsher atmospheres with more accurate and durable temperature measurement systems, controlled and uniform furnace cooling rates, and improvements in the reliability of graphite furnace designs (see http://www.ceramicindustry.com/CDA/ArticleInformation/coverstory/BNPCoverStoryItem/0,2708,85717,00.html). As a result, manufacturers can use HIPing to produce extremely dense, high-quality products while increasing throughput and saving money on product rejects and equipment maintenance.

For manufacturers that spray dry their materials, a new system called a pulse combustion spray dryer can reduce maintenance costs while generating powders with increased surface area and functionality, as well as a tighter particle size distribution (see http://www.ceramicindustry.com/CDA/ArticleInformation/features/BNP__Features__Item/0,2710,85795,00.html). Since the technology uses “gas dynamic” atomization and low pressures, rather than the mechanical shear and high pressures required in conventional spray drying systems, it can handle even highly abrasive feeds with relatively low maintenance requirements.

Mixing technology has also improved. A new mixer developed in Europe uses three separate axes to reduce mixing times and produce a superior material blend (see http://www.ceramicindustry.com/CDA/ArticleInformation/features/BNP__Features__Item/0,2710,85796,00.html). Since it can handle any size or shape of container, it significantly reduces the risk of cross-contamination, dust emissions and cleaning. And its fully programmable operation allows mixing to be customized for each product, so that the highest possible quality is achieved for each formulation—without the high cost of multiple mixing passes.

In today’s highly competitive market, price continues to be king. But manufacturers that can offer both high quality and a competitive selling price will have a definite advantage.

Editor's Note

For a discussion on quality from an engineer’s perspective, see the new column written by Reed Slevin (http://www.ceramicindustry.com/CDA/ArticleInformation/features/BNP__Features__Item/0,2710,85793,00.html). Additional equipment advances will be discussed in Ceramic Industry’s Equipment Digest, published in November.

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