The global ceramics industry is worth over US$130bn and directly employs nearly a million people. Its products are found in packaging, sanitary ware, building materials, aerospace, automotive and medical solutions. By far the largest share of glass production (45%) is for containers. Flat glass, primarily for automotive and construction, represents 16% of the market. Despite the expanding use of glass fibre in communications and reinforced plastic, it makes up only six per cent. The fastest-growing portion is speciality glass, including silicon nitride (Si3N4) used in solar pv, aerospace and medical applications. Challenges include energy consumption, CO2 emissions, transport costs and recycling.
Glass manufacturing is energy-intensive, whether at the commodity end of the spectrum or in speciality niches. Glass and ceramic production also emit significant levels of CO2.
Real-time data collection ensures that machinery is operating at optimum efficiency. Spikes in energy are detected quickly, and heat recapture and recycling systems are operating at optimal efficiency. Process transparency enables optimisation of employee activity and close management of jobs and machinery.
Dust and gaseous emissions produced during firing or spray drying of ceramics may be derived from raw materials and fuels and could contain oil or heavy metals. Lead and cadmium, for example, are subject to strict statutory regulation. Clouds of organic powders and metals can be explosive in confined areas.
Automated monitoring of equipment performance, including leakage, will reduce the risk of explosions or failures of compliance
An effective response to low-cost competition challenges producers to continually maintain or improve quality improvement while controlling or reducing costs.
Effective scheduling of resources and management of capacity, combined with interactive job lists, enables optimisation of equipment and energy consumption.
Speciality glass markets, with applications in medical prosthetics, communications, aerospace and automotive ceramics, are the fastest-growing in the industry and offer an opportunity for more profitable, premium pricing. Speed of development is a constant threat to businesses that lag behind.
Real time visibility with paperless production processes, downtime alerts and collaborative messaging within the factory and along the supply chain help manufacturers to innovate and upgrade skills and resources, while controlling risks.
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