Investing In Ceramics
In 2002, The Pfaltzgraff Co. decided to divest its Shenango Refractories subsidiary to focus on its core dinnerware business. Two members of Shenango’s management team—Divisional Vice President/General Manager Mike Atkins and Sales Manager Bill Augur—determined to seize the opportunity.
“We believed that Shenango would have excellent growth potential if we could expand the company into new technologies and new markets,” said Atkins.
The two men approached Brad Olson, owner of Nova Industrial Ceramics, Inc. and a consultant to Shenango Refractories for its silicon carbide products, to find out if he would be interested in a partnership. Olson readily agreed, and he also brought one more partner on board—Chand Associates Inc., a leader in the ceramic machining industry and a manufacturer of porous metal filters and flow control devices.
“When Mike Atkins approached Chand to join in acquiring Shenango Refractories from Pfaltzgraff it was an easy decision,” explained Ronald H. Chand, chief operating officer of Chand Associates. “We saw it as an opportunity to provide Shenango with cost-effective machining for the new materials they were planning to introduce.”
On September 30, 2002, Shenango Refractories was sold by The Pfaltzgraff Co. to Shenango Advanced Ceramics, LLC, a new company owned by these four experienced ceramic industry veterans. With Ronald Chand as CEO, Atkins as president, Augur as vice president of sales and Olson as vice president of technology, Shenango Advanced Ceramics plans to continue the Shenango tradition of providing exceptional products and friendly service—while also reaching out to new markets with a number of innovative new technologies.
Building on a Strong HistoryShenango Refractories was founded in 1935 to provide refractories to the concern then known as Shenango China in New Castle, Pa. It was not until many years later that Shenango Refractories began to provide refractories to other companies. However, even at that point the company focused primarily on cordierite refractories. Then, in 1996, the company introduced recrystallized silicon carbide (RSC) products to the market.
Today, diversification continues to be the key to remaining successful in the refractories business. “Companies are looking for suppliers that can provide solutions to their many challenging needs and that can respond quickly to those needs. Those suppliers that exceed their customers’ expectations and provide the right products at the right time will be the ones to succeed,” Atkins said. “For Shenango Advanced Ceramics, service and product selection will continue to be our two primary objectives.”
As part of its goal toward diversification, Shenango has installed three new periodic kilns. Two of the kilns are used to manufacture Shenango NX-20 advanced nitride-bonded silicon carbide, a new product designed to exceed customer expectations in lightweight and high-strength applications. The third kiln is used to manufacture the company’s new reaction-bonded silicon carbide, which is used in a variety of industrial applications.
In addition, a fourth new kiln has been installed to expand capacity for the manufacture of recrystallized silicon carbide beams and to manufacture plates and more complex shaped parts. “The material properties of our recrystallized silicon carbide are designed to exceed our customers’ property requirements and ensure excellent performance in their operations,” Atkins said.
Establishing Strategic PartnershipsTo further enhance its product selection, Shenango has partnered with Combustol, Brazil and Estiva, Brazil—two leading manufacturers of refractory products. Combustol manufactures silicon carbide, electro-fused mullite and alumina products, while Estiva manufactures cordierite, ceramic rollers and high alumina grinding media. “Strategically, Combustol and Estiva are excellent companies for us to partner with due to their focus on exceeding customers’ expectations. These strategic partners will provide products that Shenango does not have the capability to manufacture, thus complementing Shenango’s U.S. manufacturing base of operations,” Atkins said.
Looking Toward a Promising FutureIn a business that tends to be price-driven and dominated by giant corporations, smaller companies often have to struggle to find a successful niche. However, Chand, Atkins and the other Shenango Advanced Ceramics owners believe that offering a high level of customer service with the right products delivered at the right time will enable them to succeed.
“For U.S.-based companies to compete in the world market, costs are going to have to be lowered and contained. Quality is no longer our edge, as [other companies in other countries] have caught on. With Chand’s innovative approach to machining, and with Shenango’s focus on developing new technologies and products, we’re going to be able to help keep ceramic manufacturing in the U.S., resulting in quicker and more reliable service,” Chand said.
Atkins agreed. “The proximity of our U.S. manufacturing operations to our customers, coupled with tight supply chain partnerships for products not as effectively manufactured in the U.S., will enable us to provide companies with the right solutions at the right time. Additionally, we will continue to remain focused on our customers’ needs,” he said.