The new JM plant is located within 40 miles of both the Iluka and DuPont heavy mineral mines, and it provides trucks easy highway access. Jacksonville's port at Blount Island handles significant container cargo, and the Port of Jacksonville is developing bulk handling. The location allows JM to minimize its transportation both into the factory and ultimately to the customer.
Johnson Matthey broke ground on this greenfield site in May 1999. Site work, underground utilities and development of foundations began immediately. Ball mills, classification equipment, dust collectors, silos and packing equipment began arriving in early September, and equipment installation and building construction proceeded at an accelerated pace through October and November. On December 17, the first milled zircon produced in the Jacksonville facility exited the mill.
From early January until February 14, 2000, plant personnel worked to debug the new process. Particle size testing was done both in the U.S. and in the company's New Castle, U.K., facility. Other tests, including chemistry and firing glaze samples, were performed in the U.K.
By February 15, JM was ready to show off the plant, and the company held an open house for several key ceramic industry decision-makers, as well as City of Jacksonville officials.
A key part of the new facility is its processing technology. This is the first JM site dedicated to manufacturing opacifiers through lower-cost, proprietary, dry processing technologies rather than the wet process, which is largely used in the other eight JM zircon processing sites. The manufacturing process was internally designed by JM personnel, who collectively have a long history of manufacturing and innovation in the production of opacifiers.
The goal during start up was to produce opacifiers using the new technology with performance equal to the company's Zircopax Plus and Superpax Plus products. The start up went very smoothly, and by mid-February the plant was producing-via the wet process-opacifiers almost identical in performance to Zircopax Plus.
Samples have been sent to many customers and the feedback has been positive. In April, the new facility began shipping Zircopax Plus, and most of the company's customers are now buying U.S. produced Superpax Plus and Zircopax Plus products. Future expansions are likely as U.S. demand increases for JM's opacifier products.
In addition to housing the opacifier business, JM supports accounting, administration and customer service for its Structural Ceramics Division at the Jacksonville facility. The Structural Ceramics business supplies glazes, grits, stains, etc. to tile and sanitaryware manufacturers in North America.