During the nineteenth century, Britain reigned supreme in the realm of ceramics manufacturing. The Stoke-on-Trent region in particular — aptly nicknamed ‘The Potteries’ — dominated the industry. In fact, ceramics manufactured in the area are still perceived to be among the best quality in the world. However, tradition isn’t enough to remain competitive in today’s consumer goods market. Here, Chris Rogers, sales director at Design Rule, explains the ceramics industry can embrace technology, without losing the industry’s tradition and craftsmanship.
During the industrial revolution, the ‘Made in England’ back-stamp became a prestigious marketing tool for the ceramics industry. However, with the recession and globalisation some cracks began to show in the sector. Between the early 1980s and 2010, over 40,000 jobs were lost in Stoke-on-Trent’s ceramics industry alone.
Despite its rapid decline, employment stabilised in 2010 and for some ceramics industry sectors, a revival is underway. Several leading ceramics brands are now reporting record sales and expansion plans. However, reviving the ceramics industry is not without the necessity of change.
Technology and tradition
Ceramics, as an industry, suffers many assumptions. Ceramics often portrays images of craftsmen carefully modelling, decorating and engraving their creations by hand. Naturally, there is artistry involved in modern ceramics, but manufacturers are now embracing technological processes to enhance their operations.
Like the wider consumer goods industry, ceramics manufacturers face challenges related to time-to-market expectations, quality, and reducing costs and waste. However, meeting these demands while retaining manufacturing traditions can be a difficult balance to strike.
Take historic pottery firm, Spode, as an example. In 2009, the company returned some of its ceramic production from Asia to its original home, in Stoke-on-Trent. Today, around 30 per cent of the products in its most iconic range are produced in the Staffordshire city — and as a result, production has increased by 20 per cent.
To some extent, the manufacturing process at Spode’s site is the same as it was 200 years ago; at the end of the process, 22 pairs of hands will have touched each piece of pottery. However, technological developments are allowing manufacturers in the industry to improve in other ways; identifying market trends, digitising product design and improving planning for the production process.
Ceramic is a ubiquitous material in the consumer goods realm. However, as with all consumer goods, identifying customers buying habits is vital to success. In recent years, the ceramics sector has benefitted from a revival. The table and giftware sector, for example, is currently enjoying an increase in export sales, rising by 36 per cent since 2009.
The same sector increased its gross value-added — a key indicator of profitability — from £125m to £181m between 2009 and 2014. These figures are impressive, but to ensure manufacturers are bringing the right products to market, understanding consumer buying habits is essential.
Research proves that over than 80 per cent of the costs associated with a bringing a product to market are locked-in during the concept development stage. Developing new products requires an assessment of risk versus profitability. Put simply, ceramics manufacturers must make an educated decision on whether a product will sell — a decision made easier when consumer data and social collaboration is at hand.
Using business experience tools, like My Product Portfolio, a suite of applications on Dassault Systèmes 3DEXPERIENCE platform for companies that develop products, ceramics manufacturers can examine consumer trend data and measure this against the company’s upcoming product designs — ensuring that everything that is designed has a designated demographic and target market.
3DEXPERIENCE also provides social collaboration as an element of the design process to manage to idea funnel. This feature enables designers to create online internal and external communities where initial design concepts and models can be shared. These communities can encompass marketing teams, sales staff, other designers or even external agencies, suppliers or valued customers, ensuring a more collaborative and well-informed approach to product development.
The conceptual phase of product development has the most significant impact on the overall profitability of a product — if it is not designed well, it is less likely to sell. 3D design software, like CATIA 3DEXPERIENCE, enables manufacturers to create detailed 3D models of the product before any real production begins.
3DEXPERIENCE can be used to validate the proposed 3D models for moulding, analysis and simulation - this will identify the most efficient ways to manufacture the design in question. A design review will validate the ergonomics of the product and true-to-life rendering will give the designer an insight into how the final product will look, providing imagery for marketing purposes. Particularly useful for ceramics manufacturers, 3D decoration and engraving can also be incorporated into the design.
Porcelain manufacturer, Bernardaud, wanted to be more efficient in the way it develops its range of porcelain china and tableware, but the company did not want to lose the unique craftsmanship associated with its brand. To achieve this, the company implemented 3DEXPERIENCE and the My Product Portfolio solution to digitise the design phase.
Creating virtual models of each product in 3DEXPERIENCE, Bernardaud could virtually alter the shapes, colours, decorations and engraving of each design. However, this virtual prototype is not just for aesthetics. Once finalised, the virtual model can be used to assist the manufacturing process.
In Bernardaud’s case, the company used the virtual prototype as referential moulds to create the product in question. The same model can also be used to simulate manufacturing and conduct durability tests on the design.
Following the creation of a design, the prototype can be tested against stress and resistance within the same application. Not only does this provide an indication of the durability of the product, but also assess whether the design can withstand the high-pressure production of ceramic manufacturing.
As with all ceramics manufacturing, the material can ‘twist’ or ‘shrink’ when subjected to the heat of the kiln. By simulating this process in a virtual environment, the designer can ensure that any product shrinkage is catered for and identify any potential for breakages.
Ceramics is one of the world’s oldest industries. To a traditional ceramic artist or pottery designer, some modern technology can be at odds with their craft. However, to compete in today’s competitive consumer goods market, contemporary manufacturers are using business experience platforms to enhance their market analysis, design and production processes to compliment the traditional aspects that have built the foundations of the industry.