Ceramic Industry

The Kiln Community at ceramitec

February 1, 2001
Senior Technical Editor Ralph Ruark connected with kiln engineers from around the world at ceramitec 2000.

Even before I entered the gates of the new Munich Fairgrounds, I could sense the excitement surrounding ceramitec 2000. The large, imposing structure boasted multiple flags representing many of the exhibiting countries—a kind of ceramic Olympics. My assignment was to interview kiln company exhibitors to determine the “state of the kiln industry” in 2000-2001.

As I wound my way from booth to booth, I was impressed with the hospitality offered by the people I interviewed. Using a combination of English, sometimes via an interpreter, hand gestures, photos and smiles, I was able to connect with engineers from around the world.

My favorite part of each interview was giving the representatives an opportunity to share their personal company philosophy with our readers. It is obvious that we are part of a very diverse and special community.

Genero Cueva (left) and Travis Maples (right), Bickley Inc., were just two of the people Ralph spoke with at ceramitec 2000.
Bickley, now associated with Nutec, will keep its main offices in Bensalem, Pa. Nutec Director General Ing. Genaro F. Cueva D. is proud that the 22 Bickley employees combined with the 227 workers at Nutec represent 350 years of combined kiln experience. Bickley’s kilns are designed to serve the top firing ranges of 1250 to 1800°C. Adding Nutec’s line, with a range of 1350 down to 700°C, allows successful firing to be achieved in almost any area of ceramics.

Bickley’s president, Travis Maples, espouses a focus on customers. “It is Bickley’s goal to exceed our customers’ expectations by providing the best engineered and manufactured equipment available to the ceramic industry worldwide. In addition, Bickley intends to supply the necessary services that support that endeavor, provide opportunities, excitement and fun for our employees, and create a financially sound company that will continue to grow and provide the next generation of customers and employees continued success and opportunities,” Maples said.

CTB Systems, Inc., in partnership with CTB Ceramic Technology GmbH, has two locations in Berlin, Germany, and Wellsboro, Pa. Sixteen people are employed to serve the porcelain, technical ceramic and refractories industries. Tom Hinkle, president of the American division, said that the company’s goal is “to become the business and technical leader in the field of firing innovations and firing systems. We believe we can achieve this goal by providing our clients with the tools and state-of-the-art equipment that position them to become the leaders in their respective fields of endeavor.”

European Managing Director Bernd Geismar added that he is excited about the company’s creation of an innovative system that will gather several thousand data points per minute pertaining to firing parameters, as well as run a simulation of a kiln trial cycle that prints out on one sheet of paper.

Drayton Kilns serves the global kiln market with main offices in Stoke-on- Trent, England, and employs 80 people. Its intermittent or continuous kilns, which are mostly gas fired, serve a variety of industries. In addition to tableware, which is one of Stoke-on-Trent’s claims to fame, Drayton designs for refractories, sanitaryware, brick and special refractories.

Eisenmann Corp. has principal locations in Crystal Lake, Ill., and Boblingen, Germany, as well as other locations worldwide, with a total of 2100 employees. The kiln and automation group represents about 100 employees of the total Eisenmann group. Intermittent and continuous kilns are custom designed and manufactured to provide firing capabilities for all industrial ceramics processed, as well as heat treating systems for metals. Just as important, the company’s automation team is capable of developing product handling systems that permit “hands off” movement of products to and from the kiln process. Ryan Washburn, manager of ceramic and metallurgical systems, stated Eisenmann’s goals: “Our job is to work closely with our customers for the best possible design. We combine our thermal solutions with the finest custom automation systems to help our clients with their automation challenges. Our great strength is having highly capable automation specialists working in concert with our expert kiln design team.”

GFC Kilns International Pty., Ltd. is a global company, with main offices in Melbourne, Australia. The company, with 30 employees, is directed by brothers Terry and Harold Wight. GFC provides a range of kilns to the sanitary, tableware and porcelain industries. Tunnel and shuttle kilns operated by electric, natural gas, town gas, producer gas or petroleum gasoline are all available. The company’s philosophy is: “To ensure customers have everything they need to provide a profitable, high quality output. We pulse fire our enamel kilns because we passionately believe it’s the best way to provide even temperature in heating and cooling. Additionally, we still downdraft our shuttles rather than doing the much cheaper updraft through the roof.”

Grun GmbH builds conventional chamber kilns, chamber kilns with automatic loading/unloading, and kilns with extremely maneuverable firing tables. Grun, which supplies the tableware industry, is located in Michlitz, Germany. Managing partner Rudiger Grun stated his philosophy as: “The time and money we invest in the ongoing perfection of our technology we save several times over in our sales. Virtually every new customer automatically becomes a convinced ‘salesman’ for our company. The further the results of a customer’s investment exceed his expectations, the greater his urge to tell people about it.”

Harrop Industries and its subsidiary, A. J. Carsten Company Ltd., serve a wide range of ceramic processing needs. The 85 employees of the company design, build and expertly commission kilns for practically all ceramic products manufactured, as well as tape casting systems for thin film making. Harrop’s main office is located in Columbus, Ohio, and its tape casting division is in Powell River, British Columbia, Canada. Dan O’Brien, vice president, reported that “our mission is to design and supply value added dryers, kilns and precision tape cast machines to meet the specific needs of the ceramic manufacturing and research communities, while maintaining a professional, rewarding working environment for our employees.”

HED International, with main offices in Ringoes, N.J., employs 35 people and multiple subcontractors. The company serves diverse industries with an emphasis on ceramics and energy, and it has a strong tape casting division focused on fuel cells and rechargeable batteries. Development work is being done in HMI (human-machine interface), which allows easy-to-use remote access to diagnostic capabilities and operating parameters from the office. According to Vice President Kathleen Kriskewic, the company is “always willing to work with the customer to develop a product to meet their process through custom design work, resulting in installations we are all proud of.”

Jack Beaumont Kilns Ltd. is one of the fastest growing kiln companies in the U.K., and it has recently formed a working partnership with Swindell Dressler to provide low set brick kilns for a massive U.K. brick industry. Located in Stoke-on- Trent, England, the company employs 40 people and is managed by father and son directors Jack and Steve Beaumont. In keeping with the family tradition started by his great-grandfather, Steve’s son has also joined the business. Their philosophy reflects these family values: “Take business seriously but enjoy yourselves as well. Don’t get stuck in the past, but look forward to new ideas and try to maintain good relationships with other companies.” Beaumont offers a full range of kilns to serve the tableware, hotelware and glost firing industries. It has revolutionized pottery by developing a kiln that will fire two different products at the touch of a button.

Mori Technology is a new company venture located in Modena, Italy. With 40 years of experience in ceramics from the now defunct Mori SPA, company president Mario Mori works with a consultant to represent solutions for storage of finished products and provide connections through the Internet for direct customer sales. “We owe to [my father] the technology, my experience and the experience of all the people connected with Mori,” said Mario Mori. “My father did well not only as an engineer, but as a person.”

Nabertherm, with offices in Bremen, Germany, as well as several other countries, including the U.S., offers standard and custom solutions through electric heating systems in periodic format. Products range from small laboratory kilns to large movable car type shuttles. Especially exciting is a new infrared decorating system that can decorate products on a periodic basis in cycles as short as one and a half hours. This innovative system employs a moving hearth, called an exchange table, with two separate firing platforms, which allows very rapid turnaround combined with energy savings since the kiln chamber never cools to ambient temperatures. Dr. Olaf Irretier provided a copy of the internal newsletter, Hot Wire, which promotes the philosophy that “the knowledge and the ability of all of our employees to produce and sell high quality industrial furnaces has to be mobilized and made available for all of us to improve ourselves and our products continuously.”

North American Manufacturing Co., headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, places an emphasis on reengineering ceramic systems and processes—solutions that improve both a manufacturer’s products and business. The company provides leading-edge high temperature combustion control technology designed to meet its customers’ specific needs. Its team of engineers helps manufacturers achieve higher quality products; reduced production costs; improved production; and lower NOx, CO and fluoride emissions.

Riedhammer GmbH is one of the largest kiln companies in the world. Family-owned, it is managed by Peter Riedhammer at its main offices and fabrication facility in Nurnberg, Germany. With 450 employees, Riedhammer is represented all over the world by a network of agents with strong ties to the ceramic industry. Its product line has solutions for every ceramic product imaginable, including carbon baking systems as large as a soccer field. Bryan Eaton, sales director for the company, said, “Our philosophy is to provide the highest possible technical innovation consistent with our customers’ demands and requirements. We accomplish this through flexible designs. We consistently reinvest in research and development to invent and refine the most advanced systems in the world. These efforts result in our ability to constantly bring new concepts to the world of ceramic thermal processing.”

Rohde’s director, Helmut Rohde, founded his business 18 years ago while pursuing his hobby of wood fired pottery in his garage. Today, he employs 60 people at his plant in Prutting, Germany. He supplies custom kilns of moderate price to potters, using electric, gas and wood fired models. His philosophy is to “make a very good quality product because I want to be invited three years later by my customers for a cup of coffee.” Although Rohde does not handle direct sales in the U.S., he works with many dealers in Europe.

Sacmi of Italy has offices and agencies to serve the world. Its booth at ceramitec was world class—with thousands of square feet devoted to production of white and structural ceramics. A discussion with Luca Berrone, general manager of Sacmi USA in Des Moines, Iowa, showed that Sacmi favors an integrated approach to ceramic industry supply, whereby clients can purchase all of the hardware and software to build entire plants from one supplier. The company’s area of concentration includes all types of ceramic tile, as well as complete plants for the manufacture of sanitaryware. Kilns offered include roller hearth, shuttle and tunnel, with combined kiln sales of 100 units per year. “Continuous innovation is the key,” reflected Berrone. He pointed to the fully automated systems currently available, which manage all phases of manufacture, including optical inspection, packaging and storage of finished goods.

Swindell Dressler, worldwide agents with offices in Pittsburgh, Pa., and Melbourne, Australia, serves the whole range of the industry with the exception of electronics. The company has recently taken on Jack Beaumont Kilns, Ltd. as its agent in the U.K. Swindell President Mark Lemly has a threefold philosophy focusing on technology, reliability and sales/service. In the first area, the company’s goal is “to be on the leading edge in each of the areas we participate in to the end of having kilns that will run automatically, free of operator intervention.” Reliability to Lemly means “kilns that work the first time and will last a long time, operating with minimal problems.” In sales, the company strives “to stick with our customers until they are satisfied.”

Takasago Industry Co., Ltd. has its main offices in Japan and Southeast Asia. The company of 300 employees serves many industries including tableware, tile, brick, and hard and soft ferrites. Tadaaki Katsumata, chief of the International Department, said he was “happy that we joined this fair. The quality of our products is very good, and this is our sixth time exhibiting at ceramitec.”

Tecnochimica Sassolese of Modena, Italy, markets roller, shuttle and tunnel kilns firing a range of up to 1600°C. Luigi Litta, sales manager, is especially proud of the company’s roller kilns for soft ferrites. Boasting of its flexible heating systems, low cost and state-of-the-art atmosphere control, Litta indicated that the company has had superb results in this field. The company’s philosophy is to build quality systems at excellent price and value that fit its clients’ requirements.

Tekno Kilns s.r.l. is a small company of five employees located in Molteno, Italy, north of Milan. The company has been in business for four years, providing periodic, electric and gas kilns up to three cubic meters to the ceramic, glass and porcelain industries. Representative Silvia Monti was excited about attending ceramitec for the first time, and said he looks forward to the opportunity to better understand the needs of the kiln industry.

Utenos Elektrotechnika, based in Lithuania, produces electrical laboratory and industrial ovens and furnaces. With 85 employees, the company serves many industries, including ceramic, metallurgy, chemical and laboratory fields. In addition, the company produces shelving systems and insulation. Marketing manager Saulius Grigalvicius stated that the company’s philosophy is “to make good quality products. Without this, you cannot compete with others.”

In reflecting back on my experiences at ceramitec 2000, I have certainly gained a better idea of who we are as a kiln community. We are a family of friendly competitors running the gamut from the small, one to two person family operation, all the way to the large companies employing several hundred workers. We come from countries as large as China and as small as Lithuania. Some still fire with wood and coal, while others are exploring ways to make kilns run hands-free with just the flip of a switch.

Despite our differences, we all share a love of our work, a desire to be customer-oriented, a bright vision for the future, and a respect for one another not only as ceramic engineers, but also as people.

Editor's Note

Unfortunately, there wasn’t room to include a review of every stand at ceramitec. Suppliers who exhibited at ceramitec are welcome to submit information on their new equipment and processes to run in CI’s What’s New section in future issues. To submit a press release for publication in Ceramic Industry, contact Susan Sutton, (614) 789-1881, fax (614) 760-5922; e-mail sesuttonci@aol.com.