Ceramic Industry

SPECIAL SECTION/REFRACTORIES: Rapid Development

October 1, 2010
Time compression technology is at the heart of progress in kiln furniture development.

SRP machines can reduce the time and cost of product development compared to the traditional additive processes.

Working hand-in-hand with customers is a basic tenet of doing business. However, in the context of a competitive and design-led business like ceramics, suppliers need to bring more to the table; they must demonstrate expertise, flexibility and rapid response. This concept led IPS Ceramics Ltd., which was formed at the end of 2009 from the former Dyson TT Kiln Furniture business, to launch a facility that relies on rapid prototyping, also known as time compression technology (TCT).

Subtractive Rapid Prototyping

The facility includes a Roland Modela Pro II that was installed along with its own dust extraction unit in a purpose-built room adjacent to IPS Ceramics' design office. As a subtractive rapid prototyping (SRP) machine, the Roland unit enables significantly shorter lead times-from weeks down to typically 36 hours-along with the elimination of unnecessary (and very expensive) die manufacturing costs.

The full-service facility allows manufacturers to test new product lines before committing to production volumes. This testing involves factors related to both market reaction and technical viability, such as material specifications, machinability, design pathways, technical parameters, complex shape management, full production planning, and feasibility assessment.

The Roland Modela II MDX-540 system, which was installed with a support bench and specialized tooling, is particularly well-suited to short-run production applications. SRP reduces the time and cost of product development compared to the traditional additive processes previously used across the industry. In most cases, after entering the specifications into the system, a fully machined low-density cordierite-mullite product can be delivered within three days anywhere in the world.

Customers can then immediately test-fire their ware to ensure technical exactness, dimensional stabilities and compatibility. In addition, they can manufacture first-quality finished pieces of any new designs and present them to a limited market for feedback. The net result is that manufacturers can save money while making their businesses more flexible.

Continuity is also built into the system; the same CAD line that is used for the rapid prototyping unit is also used for the eventual production die-making order. It is sometimes desirable to avoid costly die-making altogether (e.g., when a high-value piece is only ever going to be fired in small quantities). The Roland machine's CNC routed setter can perform exactly the same job as a piece off the die and will offer the standard lifetime.

The Roland Modela Pro II was installed along with its own dust extraction unit.

SRP in Action

IPS has discovered that its customers are increasingly including the company as part of their overall process and technology solution-not simply as a consumables supplier. Lenox Corp. was one of the first companies to take advantage of the new facility. Lenox was working to meet pre-Christmas deadlines for the launch of its Tin Can Alley range. Ian Wright, IPS operations director, worked closely with Paul Leichtnam, vice president of Manufacturing for Lenox, and Lisa Elias, Whitewares Production manager at the Lenox Kinston plant, to achieve the desired result within the required timeframe.

"The Lenox Kinston plant has had a long relationship with the management team from IPS Ceramics, and we are looking forward to working with them in the future," said Leichtnam. "Their new company promises to bring advanced innovations for kiln furniture along with their expertise in manufacturing kiln furniture for the tableware industry. They have been a reliable partner for the past 20 years and we certainly value their professionalism and excellent service."

Figgjo AS, an award-winning chinaware manufacturer based in southern Norway, is recognized as part of the vanguard when it comes to radical designs. Since it is a supplier to the demanding hotel and catering sector, the company brings complex shape and fit issues that must be addressed in the early stages of development and production.

"Figgjo is a trendsetting supplier of chinaware to the professional kitchen, and we have achieved this position by focusing on our products' ability to excite, in kitchens and dining rooms alike," said Helge Willy Espeland, general manager. "We aim to provide creative inspiration with products and solutions that elevate the experience and value of a meal. Our philosophy is based not only on such Figgjo qualities as glaze, impact resistance and guarantees, but also on our intense creative urge and talents as well."

Figgjo turns to experienced, reliable partners and specialist teams that can play a leading role in accelerating its design and production process while maintaining the required quality levels. IPS Ceramics has established a successful relationship to help Figgjo bring product to market as quickly and effectively as possible.

Recent work has also seen the Roland unit routing machinable ceramic pieces for use in other spheres of activity, including Rolls Royce (solid oxide fuel cells), Eternit (roof tiles) and Denso (laboratory glassware).

Continuous Improvement

The introduction of the SRP machine was a logical extension of the overall customer-driven approach at IPS Ceramics. Fundamental improvements have also included the introduction of a low-density machinable ceramic that facilitates the whole prototyping system, the development of new products and materials to support the world's kiln furniture end-use community, and the introduction of a lean management system.

For more information, contact IPS at (44) 1782-711511, fax (44) 1782-717078, e-mail eng@ipsceramics.com, or visit the company's website at www.ipsceramics.com.

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