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The Instituto de Tecnología Cerámica
The Instituto de Tecnología Cerámica (ITC) is a Mixed University Institute integrated in the Universitat Jaume I of Castellón, the result of a concerted agreement between the University and the Asociación de Investigación de las Industrias Cerámicas (AICE). ITC belongs to the network of Technology Institutes supported by the Consellería de Industria y Comerç of the Autonomous Government of Valencia through IMPIVA.

The objective of the Instituto de Tecnología Cerámica is to promote and develop activities that contribute to raising the competitiveness of the ceramic sector.

ITC headquarters are housed in a modern building on campus grounds at the Campus del Riu Sec of the Universitat Jaume I of Castellón. ITC premises comprise 6000 m2 of offices, stores and laboratories equipped with scientific instruments valued at around 800 million pesetas to conduct the tests required to carry out applied scientific research projects, technological development, innovation, technological consulting and performance of the services requested by companies from the ceramic sector.

ITC offers companies over 250 analyses and tests relating to ceramic materials or the manufacturing process: chemical analysis, physical characterisation, mineralogical characterisation, study of defects, in-plant measurement of operating variables (flow rates, temperatures, gas analysis, etc.), waste characterisation, composition and raw materials controls, quality control of the finished product, industrial wastewater analysis, etc.

ITC has a pilot plant fitted with the necessary equipment to run certain tile manufacturing process stages on a semi-industrial scale. These facilities are at the disposal of companies for carrying out pilot-scale trials designed to improve the manufacturing process, thus avoiding the problems and risks that could arise in the actual production process.

 

1. FIELDS AND SECTORS OF WORK

The Instituto de Tecnología Cerámica acts in three concrete fields: Raw Materials, Manufacturing Process and Finished Product.

a) Raw materials

ITC works with natural and processed raw materials, assessing or determining their properties with regard to suitability for use in ceramic production process stages.

b) Manufacturing process

Actions are undertaken relating to control, automation, energy saving, environmental pollution, technology transfer and innovation in the different manufacturing process stages.

c) Finished product

In this field actions are directed towards enhancing existing ceramic product properties, seeking new product applications and developing new products.

ITC undertakes courses of action throughout the whole ceramic sector, particularly in the following branches:
– Ceramic floor and wall tiles
– Frits, glazes and colours
– Raw materials
– Fired clay products
– Capital goods
– Porcelain, majolica and earthenware
– Sanitary ware
– Others: refractories, technical ceramics, etc.

2. ACTIVITIES

ITC basically performs four activities: Research, Development and Technological Innovation and Technological Consultancy, Technology Transfer, Training and Technological Services.

a) Research, development and technological innovation and technological consultancy

ITC engages in a series of R+D+I and technological consultancy activities in co-operation with ceramic enterprises, focussed on enhancing product quality and optimising manufacturing processes.

The needs of the ceramic sector are detected by ITC technicians through their continuous contact with day-to-day industrial reality as a result of technological consultancy. The main R+D+I lines are set out accordingly, as a result of the consulting activities, forming the framework within which research projects are conducted with different companies.

Scientific Research, Technological Development, Innovation and Technological Consultancy are thus conceived as complementary activities, directed at creating new ceramic products, improving existing ones, yielding greater knowledge of manufacturing process stages, and designing new manufacturing equipment and/or procedures, i.e., generating new enabling technologies for industrial innovation.

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) generally have limited means for conducting research work. Thus, in order to perform and assimilate the technology that will make such companies more competitive, they require the support of an outside organisation for achieving certain specific pre-set objectives. In this sense, ITC acts as a technology generating and enabling centre for industrial innovation.

ITC R+D+I projects and technology are conducted according to the following lines of work:

*Improving the manufacturing process

Raw materials for manufacturing ceramic products
Uniaxial dry pressing
Casting and extrusion
Drying
Glazing
Study of high-temperature physico-chemical transformations (fritting furnaces, tile firing kilns, etc.)
Waste reuse and pollutant reduction
Optimising energy efficiency

*Improving tile characteristics and developing new ceramic products

Ceramic body
Ceramics frits, glaze compositions and coatings
Development of new quality control techniques
Development of new products and techniques

b) Technology transfer

Aware that companies from the ceramic sector cannot generate all the technology they need, ITC has fostered technology transfer in terms of seeking out, assimilating and implementing new technologies used in other production processes. Technology transfer starts by detecting the specific technological needs of companies from the ceramic sector, while concurrently capturing new ideas from trade fairs, technology forums, visits, database consultation, scientific papers, etc.

If the detected technology requires no preliminary adaptation to the peculiarities of the ceramic process, it is directly transferred by ITC Technological Consultancy services.

On the other hand, if the technology cannot be directly incorporated in the sector, the relevant R+D+I is initiated to adapt the technology to the particular needs of ceramic industry manufacturing processes.
 

c) Training

From the outset, ITC has always considered training a matter of priority for technicians in the sector as well as for its own staff, given the need to update knowledge. For this reason ITC holds workshops and courses on the work being undertaken, and participates in external courses and training activities.

The research activities conducted at ITC have yielded technical-scientific knowledge on ceramic process stages, materials behaviour and new product design. To disseminate this knowledge ITC performs training activities for company technical staff, thus contributing to raising the level of knowledge and hence end product quality and competitiveness.

The Chemical Engineering Degree course has been delivered since 1993 at the Universitat Jaume I in Castellón, focussing on ceramic materials processing, and is the only Engineering Degree in Spain with a major in Ceramic Technology.

ITC staff play a major role in training these graduates, as 65% of the teaching involved in the Degree is delivered by lecturers from the Chemical Engineering Department, who are also ITC staff members.

d) Technological services

The profitability of medium-size companies, such as those making up the ceramic sector, would be very low if each had their own infrastructure to meet corporate needs regarding analyses, finished product tests, information, etc.,. This is due to the high capital outlay required to purchase the necessary sophisticated equipment and to the considerable costs of training staff in equipment use and maintenance.

ITC provides a series of technological services for sectoral companies, divided into four large areas: analyses and tests, finished product laboratory, quality assurance and information and documentation. These technological services work for companies with a view to covering incidental company needs, and supplementing company resources.

The technological services are also used inside ITC to perform all types of literature searches, analyses, testing of new materials, etc., to carry out R+D+I activities and technological consultancy, technology transfer and training.

Analyses and tests: The Instituto de Tecnología Cerámica has at its disposal appropriate scientific instrumentation and qualified human resources for performing any tests and analyses requested by ceramic companies. As a result of this close relationship between materials and process, ITC at present provides over 250 analyses and tests for ceramic companies. This list grows yearly, owing to the new methods and experimental procedures stemming from ITC’s R+D+I activities.

ITC has at its disposal three accredited laboratories with ENAC (National Certification Body) accreditation.

  • Finished Product Laboratory
  • Environmental Unit
  • Chemical Analysis Unit

    Quality Assurance: The mission of the Quality Assurance Unit is essentially to ensure the implementation and maintenance of the Quality System that has been put in place, keeping Management informed of its operation. Moreover, aware of the growing concern of ceramic companies for this issue, ITC provides a service of information and co-operation in specific projects devoted to implementing ISO 9000 standards at the companies.

    Information and Documentation: The main purpose of this Unit is to meet the information needs that arise at ITC and in companies from the ceramic sector. This is done by selecting and compiling documents from the field of ceramic technology, which by virtue of their interest or usefulness become part of ITC’s literature resources. Besides this external source of information, another important part of these resources comes from the documentation that is produced as a result of the research work conducted by ITC’s various Units. All this information is analysed, classified and stored in databases. Automated documentary management allows responding rapidly, pertinently and accurately to user requests and consultations.

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