More than 600 companies from 40 countries will showcase their products and services in Munich, Germany, May 16-19 during CERAMITEC 2006. For many companies, CERAMITEC 2006 will provide an opportunity to introduce new products and technologies to the global ceramic industry.
Several hundred attendees are expected to gather at the Flamingo Hilton in Las Vegas, Nev., March 26-28 for the Society of Glass and Ceramic Decorators' (SGCD) DECO '06 seminar and exhibition. With the theme "Designing for Changing Markets," the event will cover new decorating trends and technologies, as well as challenges such as Proposition 65 and Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) reporting.
In addition to an informative seminar, nearly 30 exhibitors will showcase new developments in decorating equipment and materials, such as kilns and lehrs; colors, coatings and glazes; screen printing equipment and supplies; ultraviolet (UV) inks and equipment; blankware and other substrates; and specialty products.
Ask any manufacturer what their biggest challenges are, and the cost of energy is likely to be at or very near the top of the list. Companies in the ceramic and related industries that fire with natural gas have seen their gas prices double, triple and even quadruple over the last few years, as supplies have tightened due to increasing demand and damage from several major hurricanes. Manufacturers who want to stay competitive must either reduce their energy consumption, or find an alternative (cheaper) energy source.
While new options such as landfill gas and biomass fuels are under development, switching to an alternative energy source isn't feasible for most existing plants. However, just about every facility has room for improvement when it comes to reducing energy consumption.
In the late 1990s, Carolina Ceramics Brick Co. in Columbia, S.C., decided to expand. The company tore down one of its existing kilns to make room for a state-of-the-art, energy-efficient model capable of producing 40 million brick per year. The project, which was spearheaded by Ceric Inc., Golden, Colo., and went online in 2000, also included a new dryer, two setting robots and an automated car handling system.
In 2002, Carolina Ceramics decided to restart its remaining 6-ft-wide kiln to make some rustic tumbled brick for the residential market, bringing the plant's total production to 55 million brick per year--but that still wasn't enough to meet market demand. By 2003, the company realized that it needed to expand again.
Over the past decade, as U.S. and European manufacturers have struggled to find a competitive edge in the throes of enormous pricing pressures, it has become all too easy to relegate the idea of quality to a lesser status. Sure, it would be nice if products could meet the highest possible standard all the time...but if you can save a little here and a little there by using lower-cost raw materials and scrimping on operations and personnel, certainly the savings is well worth a small compromise. After all, doesn't everyone expect some defects and recalls now and then?
Technology available through a partnership between Harper International and Brace GmbH can be used to create perfectly round microspheres for a variety of ceramic applications. More than 50 people traveled to Lancaster, N.Y., in June 2005 to get a firsthand look at Harper International's new laboratory dedicated to microsphere and encapsulation technology from Brace GmbH.
Like the rest of the manufacturing industry, materials suppliers have been dealing with the challenges of high energy, transportation and labor costs, as well as increasing global competition. Regions rich in raw material resources, such as China, Turkey and Russia, have begun to pay more attention to quality, and ceramic and glass manufacturers have continued to place more emphasis on price.
Technically, I know January 1 is just another day. But the symbolism of a "new beginning" is just too powerful to resist. It's nice to believe that you can turn the page and start over. For companies that begin their fiscal year in January, it's a fresh start at an improved profit margin.