Investing in Ceramics: Material Processing Solutions

April 1, 2006
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Often, companies need additional material processing capacity immediately to satisfy market demand. In other cases, companies can't yet justify purchasing new equipment but need to be able to mill materials to fill a specific market niche. Toll processing is increasingly providing the ideal solution.

A lab technician analyzes materials in a Union Process Szegvari Attritor.
As the markets for many ceramic products have continued to improve over the past year, manufacturing plants have begun investing in new production equipment and exploring potential new applications. Often, however, companies don't have time to wait for their new equipment to be built-they need additional material processing capacity right now to satisfy market demand. In other cases, companies can't yet justify purchasing new equipment but need to be able to mill materials to fill a specific market niche. Where can these companies turn?

According to Emery Li, eastern U.S. sales manager for Union Process, Inc., toll processing provides the ideal solution. "Union Process has always offered toll processing," he explains. "Initially, customers primarily used the service to evaluate our equipment on a larger scale or to produce larger quantities of test material. However, the last few years have seen significant increases in toll processing activity as our economy continues to trend toward outsourcing and more of a service economy. Our capabilities have continued to evolve with our customers' changing needs."

The company's 7300-square-foot lab and pilot plant handles wet and dry milling, small media milling for submicron applications, and particle characterization.

An Attractive Alternative

Union Process was founded in Akron, Ohio, in 1946 by Andrew Szegvari, Ph.D., to help bring about the union of chemistry and process engineering. The development and marketing of grinding and dispersing technology played a major role in the company's success. The Original Szegvari Attritor (a batch machine) was followed by the evolution of new machine designs such as the continuous attritor (for on-line production), dual and triple shaft attritors, and the latest, the circulation grinding attritor (often referred to as the "Q-Machine") for narrow particle distribution. Today, Union Process equipment can be found in numerous ceramic, chemical, paint, ink, metal powder and other manufacturing plants around the world. But for companies looking to save on the cost of capital equipment, personnel, space requirements and other expenses associated with milling materials on-site, Union Process' toll milling services offer an attractive alternative.

The company's 7300-square-foot lab and pilot plant features the complete line of Union Process milling equipment and handles wet and dry milling, small media milling for submicron applications, and particle characterization. According to Li, Union Process has milled numerous materials for a variety of different industries, in quantities ranging from less than 100 lbs to more than 20 tons. While much of this work is still geared toward helping prospective customers evaluate Union Process' fine grinding equipment prior to making a capital investment, the company has increasingly begun processing materials for other reasons as well.

For example, some companies that have already placed orders for new milling equipment have needed the additional production capacity sooner than the typical 12- to 14-week turnaround on the new mills. Rather than being stuck at current production levels while their equipment is being designed and built, these companies have been able to use Union Process' toll processing service to increase their production immediately. In other cases, R&D operations and startups without the capital, space or capabilities to handle material processing themselves have used the company's toll processing services to pursue new products or markets.

According to Li, the main benefits of using toll processing are the assurance that materials are processed to high standards under the supervision of experienced personnel, and the ability to evaluate equipment and processes on a pilot scale prior to making large capital expenditures. While toll processing isn't cost effective for every company, Li notes that it can provide a welcome solution in some applications. "High value added applications, such as electronic ceramics and dental ceramics, are examples of suitable candidates for toll processing," he explains.

Expanded Capabilities

As more companies look for ways to outsource some of their manufacturing operations, Li believes that toll processing will continue to be a growing part of Union Process' business. The company is expanding its capabilities to meet the increasing demand. A facility expansion that is expected to be completed in June or July of this year will increase the company's toll processing space to 9500 square feet. Union Process also continues to increase its capacity by adding new equipment, expand its capabilities by investing in new technologies, and add value by offering related services such as particle characterization and testing.

"Our mission is to be a solution provider for our customers' grinding needs-whether that involves selling new equipment, refurbishing equipment, selling grinding media, offering lab testing services or providing toll processing services. We remain focused on being proactive to the changing economy and responsive to the industry's needs," says Li.

For more information about Union Process, Inc., contact the company at 1925 Akron Peninsula Rd., Akron, OH 44313; (330) 929-3333; fax (330) 929-3034; e-mail unionprocess@unionprocess.com; or visit www.unionprocess.com.

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