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The Porcelain Enamel Institute (PEI) was founded in 1930 with the goal of “advancing the common interests of porcelain enameling plants and suppliers of porcelain enameling materials and equipment.” According to Cullen Hackler, the organization’s executive vice president, PEI remains just as dedicated to that goal today.
Through its major programs and services, PEI serves three primary objectives:
- Showcase and promote innovations in materials and processing to improve the overall efficiency of enameling operations.
- Promote the product generally and encourage its use in all possible applications.
- Advance and protect the legitimate interests of the industry and its individual members.
Encouraging InnovationPEI tries to encourage innovation within the porcelain enamel industry in a number of ways, including hosting an annual Technical Forum, providing special training opportunities, and disseminating information to its membership.
The Technical Forum includes a small exhibition, called the Suppliers Mart, as well as about 35 presentations on a variety of technical issues, such as materials, new or modified processes in porcelain enameling, new equipment, and new technologies in metal forming and welding.
“We cover everything from the metal to the finished product in the Technical Forum,” Hackler says. “The content varies every year, but it always highlights new things that are being done or things that the suppliers such as Ferro, Pemco, AS Smith, etc., have investigated in their laboratories. They all speak, and some of them present multiple papers.”
At its 2001 Technical Forum, PEI re-instituted the A.I. Andrews Memorial Lecture, named after a professor of ceramic engineering at the University of Illinois who wrote a book on porcelain enameling and did a lot of work on the subject in the laboratory and the university. The topic and speaker for each year’s lecture is chosen by the Technical Forum planning committee. According to Hackler, next year’s topic will be color measurement and color control, with the speaker still to be announced.
Each year before the Technical Forum, PEI also hosts a training workshop on the fundamentals of porcelain enameling. For the last two years, PEI has also concurrently held a powder paint workshop—a practice that the organization plans to continue.
“While powder painting is not directly related to porcelain enameling, one-third of our members are also painting, so we wanted to offer a service to them as well,” Hackler says.
To further promote learning and innovation in the porcelain enamel and related industries, PEI also takes its training workshop on the road to individual plants or cities.
“Training is an important part of this industry,” Hackler says. “As porcelain enamel experts retire, many companies are not necessarily replacing them. They’re not hiring ceramic engineers, and educational institutions are not teaching anything about porcelain enamel in the ceramic or materials science curricula. We’re trying to fill that need.”
Getting useful information into the hands of its members is yet another way in which PEI is fostering innovation. The organization publishes the proceedings of each Technical Forum, as well as a newsletter and a number of books and papers on porcelain enameling and porcelain enamel properties.
Promoting ApplicationsMarketing porcelain enamel to end users is another key objective of PEI. For the past four or five years, the organization has diligently placed advertising on popular television networks, such as HGTV, as well as websites, in an effort to promote products coated with porcelain enamel to consumers. PEI also offers rebates to encourage the purchase of porcelain enamel products.
“We’re endeavoring to talk to and educate the consumer with what I like to call ‘the porcelain enamel quality message,’” says Hackler.
Trade shows are yet another venue PEI uses to spread the word about the benefits of porcelain enamel. The organization co-sponsors the Coatings show, which is held every other year, and it also attends the annual Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) meeting. Attending trade shows is something that Hackler sees PEI doing more of in the future.
“We’ve been doing a good job of promoting the industry at trade shows. But I think we need to participate in even more trade shows to support our member companies in various industry segments,” he says.
Protecting Industry InterestsPEI also tries to stay abreast of what the government is doing or requiring of the industry and often responds to new or changing rules or regulations on behalf of its members. For instance, the Environmental Protection Agency is getting ready to introduce new metal products and machinery (MP&M) rules that will provide effluent and discharge guidelines, as well as stricter requirements for heavy metals, VOCs and other emissions. According to Hackler, the new rules could cost businesses hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to comply.
“While we’re not directly involved in any coalitions, we are spending some of our own money with environmental consultants to comment on the rule,” Hackler says. “We have also participated in Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBRFA) meetings to comment on the rule before it is published. And we’re also spending money to do research on the science behind the new legislation.”
Other regulatory issues in which PEI is involved include silica exposure and lead reporting.
“We’re watching those issues because we obviously have members that use silica and a few who use lead,” Hackler says.
Looking Toward the FutureDespite how far PEI has come over the past 71 years, Hackler still sees room for improvement—both within the organization itself and in the industry as a whole.
“Education is one area where PEI will be expanding in the future,” Hackler says. For instance, PEI is in the process of becoming accredited so that it can offer continuing education units for attending its workshops. “That will be something to help people justify coming, and it’s also a way for us to recognize the efforts people have made to attend the class,” Hackler says.
Hackler would also like to see more porcelain enamellers join PEI—and increase their level of participation.
“PEI tends to be an organization in which you derive benefit in some relation to how much you put in—it’s not a one-way street,” Hackler says. “If you just send in your dues check but don’t participate in meetings or other programs, you’re not going to derive a whole lot of benefit. Sure, you’re going to get a list and be publicized on our website and those kind of things, but beyond that, you’re not going to get the benefits of networking and getting to know people. That’s where the advantages of membership really are.”
As for the industry itself, Hackler notes that while some segments of the industry have been very innovative in their use and application of porcelain enamel, others continue to lag behind. “The appliance industry, for instance, has certainly changed in the last 20 years from wet-sprayed, direct-on cover coats to two-coat one-fire powder,” Hackler says. “They’re a lot more efficient, and they’re making a higher quality product. They’ve certainly progressed. But there are other segments that haven’t progressed.”
According to Hackler, this is where PEI can really make a difference. “We just have to pick the spots to try to help the different industry segments move forward when we can show them that there’s an opportunity and benefit in doing that,” Hackler says.