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INNOVATIONS IN THIS TRADITIONAL SECTOR : LIMOGES PORCELAIN
1. Historical Context

Since the discovery of kaolin near Limoges in 1776, the city and the surrounding Limousin region have been at the centre of the European ceramic industry, in particular, the porcelain, tableware and decorative ceramics industries. Much of the wealth of the region has derived from Limoges porcelain, a brand of prestige and a product long associated with high quality.

The history of porcelain in Limousin began over two centuries ago, when, following the fabrication of porcelain in Saxony, all of the European royal families searched for the white clay that could produce a ceramic similar to ancient Chinese porcelain. A rich kaolin deposit was discovered near Limoges in 1768 and instead of delivering the clay to the Royal Factory of Sèvres near Paris, as had been initially foreseen, it was exploited locally in Limoges, where a number of porcelain factories were founded. Although the first porcelain factory was founded in Limoges in 1771, production of Limoges porcelain did not reach a peak until the 19th century, when this luxury goods industry employed up to 15000 people. During this period the first machines became available which, along with the advent of ceramic colouring techniques and improvements in firing techniques, allowed scaling up of production to satisfy an ever-increasing world demand. At this time it was common for well off families of statesmen, industrialists and artists to have their own personalised services of Limoges porcelain.

After the Great Depression of 1929, the ceramics industry went through a difficult period. However, since the arrival of natural gas from Lacq in 1956, and the availability of automatic forming machines (rollers, isostatic presses), modern production facilities have developed which have succeeded in maintaining the overriding asset of Limoges porcelain, its quality. A number of manufacturers of Limoges porcelain (Hermès, Guy Degrenne, Lalique…) have recently been recognised nationally as producers of high quality, prestige brand products.

Over the last two centuries the porcelain manufacturing industry has thrived in the Limousin region due a combination of natural factors that have assisted the establishment and development of the industry. In particular these factors have been the constant and plentiful supply of (a) kaolin raw material, (b) water for processing of the raw materials and the production of slurries and pastes, (c) wood as a fuel for furnaces and (d) manpower.

Source : Newsletter n°6 – Euroceram I

2. The Porcelain Industry – Current Situation
Symbol of the Limousin region

The entire ceramics industry in Limousin is currently made up of approximately 62 establishments employing around 2700 people, 94% of whom are located in the department (county) of Haute-Vienne. The total turnover of the sector is greater than one billion French francs (€150 million) per annum with exports accounting for approximately 40% of production. The porcelain sector dominates the industry with a turnover of 800 million francs (€120 million) per annum.

The success of the industry is such that the terms « Limoges » and « porcelain » have become synonymous and as a result porcelain is considered to be the symbol or emblem of the Limousin region.

A spin off of the success and international reputation of the porcelain industry has been the development in the region of a ceramic sanitaryware industry. At present, two companies are active in this sector, Allia in Limoges and Jacob-Delafon in Brive.

High added value and investment

A feature of the porcelain sector is that the added value of the products is considerably higher than the national average. In terms of investment, the majority of companies in the sector, including the SME companies, have invested heavily in new technologies including new automated casting and decoration equipment.

Today, most of the companies of the region have successful plants containing isostatic presses, pressure casting equipment and automated furnaces.

Diversification and communication

As a result of the industrial and trade union history of the region, the porcelain industry in Limoges remained, until recent times, as a cluster of traditional family run local companies.

However, since the 1970s the industry has had to face increasing technological and commercial challenges for which such companies were not prepared. Reorganisation through amalgamations and takeovers within the industry in Limousin was necessary and this commenced in 1989 and continues to this day. In addition, acquisitions by companies from outside Limousin, such as Guy Degrenne, Ercuis, Pochet and Sagem, have multiplied in the intervening period such that companies from outside the region currently control some 60% of employment and 50% of turnover of the sector.

As well as modernising facilities and improving productivity methods, increased product promotion in France and abroad, particularly in the large export markets of Asia and America, has preserved and even enhanced the reputation of Limoges porcelain. This has been achieved through diversification of product ranges and by increasing sales networks. Furthermore, extensive advertising campaigns in the last few years have led to an increased level of awareness of Limoges porcelain in the general market place.

Diversification became necessary for the industry because of ever changing consumer requirements and tastes, the volatile and fragile nature of the luxury goods market and pressures from foreign competition. The industry has addressed these issues and many companies have diversified into production of specialised gifts or production of porcelain tableware for daily use.

One aspect of diversification has been the development of the artistic nature of the porcelain products. This has succeeded to such an extent that, in combination with the silverware and glassware sectors, the so called « art of the table » has become a significant market.

The industry has in recent times repositioned itself from the traditional image of being close to the luxury craft industries where Limoges porcelain tableware was used only for special events (official meals, family celebrations, wedding gifts). The new position is to market both to consumers for whom the artistic or aesthetic quality is important and to consumers who wish to use their Limoges porcelain tableware on a daily basis. This has necessitated that the Limoges porcelain industry become highly innovative, both in terms of technology and marketing.

Although development in the sanitary ware sector is strongly related to activity in the building industry, emphasis in this sector is also placed on creativity and the marketing of existing and new products.

Innovation within the ceramics industry has been facilitated by the synergy between manufacturing industry, numerous regional suppliers of equipment and raw materials and the university research laboratories at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Céramique Industrielle (ENSCI), the Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Ingénieurs de Limoges (National Engineering School of Limoges) (ENSIL) and the Centre de Transfert de Technologies Céramiques (CTTC).

One aspect of the improved lines of communication has been the hosting since 1996 of « Ceramic Network » in Limoges. This is an international gathering of professionals from all sectors of the ceramics industries with a particular focus on design and innovation. It includes a conference and an exhibition but the main aim is to bring together the different sectors of the ceramics industries and to provide them with the opportunity to meet and network, to exchange ideas and to form co-operations. Ceramic Network is now held every three years and in this way Limousin has maintained its traditional position at the cross roads of the European ceramics industry.

 

Principal ceramics companies in the Limousin region:
Company Location Product Range No. of Employees
Bernardaud Limoges et Oradour-sur-Glane Procelain 390
Allia Limoges Sanitaryware 260
Haviland Limoges Procelain 240
Jacob Delafon Brive-la-Gaillarde Sanitaryware 165
Raynaud Limoges Procelain 100
Royal-Limoges Limoges Procelain 93

Source: « The industry in Limousin » – edition 99 (DRIRE – ARD Limousin)

3. A Traditional but Innovative Industry

Technological Innovations

Many technological innovations have accompanied the development of the manufacture and the decoration of Limoges porcelain:
– Powders, mixtures and raw materials
– Isostatic pressing
– Pressure casting
– Laser prototyping (developed by the CTTC)
– New decoration techniques
– Decoration by laser (developed by Cerlase)
– Fast firing ovens
– Filter pressing
– Rapid drying

Such technological developments have been required by porcelain makers or by the companies supplying equipment, raw materials, products or services to the ceramics industries. Examples of such companies are:
– CERIC THERMIC
– CERLASE
– dmc2
– ELMECERAM
– FAURE EQUIPEMENTS
– KPCL
– MATTHEY BEYRAND

Product Development and Innovation

In the field of product development and innovation, the marketing teams and the designers work closely together or in a sequential manner.

As previously mentioned consumers wish to use their porcelain tableware more and more in their daily lives, and not to keep it only for special of official events. The technological developments outlined in the previous paragraph has allowed the industry to respond rapidly to such market trends in terms of developing products with new designs of shape and of decoration.

Aside from tableware, Limoges porcelain has found, or rediscovered, new markets in the area of decorative ceramics :
– Ornamental and commemorative plates (representing historic or sports events, or in the likenesses of famous or popular people). The main market for these products is in the USA.
– Pill boxes, decorated in a very traditional way with many varied designs inspired by artistic, film or sports events. The main markets are in Asia (Japan mainly) and in the USA.
– Small decorative collectors items
– « Lithophanies », the idea for which first appeared in the 19th century, and which have again become very fashionable and desirable. These products are essentially lamp shades of fine, matt, translucent porcelain. The decoration in the shade only appears when light is transmitted through the shade.

In Limoges, ENAD (Ecole National d’Arts Décoratifs) and CRAFT (Centre de Recherche sur les Arts du Feu et de la Terre) educate and train the designers for the ceramic industry and also assist development of new models and decoration designs for companies.

Numerous old and new porcelain designs are often displayed in museums and showrooms associated with the companies.

CERAMIC NETWORK 2002 – A Date to be Remembered :

Following the success of the Ceramic Network events held in 1996 and 1999, a third meeting will be held in 2002 in Limoges under the title innovation, synergy of ideas and creation. The meeting will allow the creators and pioneers in ceramic technology and design to assemble, discuss their work and the future plans and trends in the industry. Hosting Ceramic Network will once again confirm the position of Limoges at the heart of the European ceramic industry.

Ceramic Network will be held over 2 days in a single location, the Technopole of Limoges. The meeting will consist of conferences and workshops hosted by the big names of the European ceramic industry, a technological forum and exhibitions.

The objective of Ceramic Network is to allow professionals in the ceramics industry (manufacturers, suppliers, distributors, designers and creators) to exhibit their approach to players in other branches of the industry. In 1996, 600 professionals from 10 countries attended Ceramic Network. More than 550 business meetings were held, which generated trade agreements and research programmes. In 1999, more than 1000 attended the meeting.

Ceramic Network 2002 will be organised by the Regional Development Agency of Limousin (ARD), the Agence Nationale de Valorisation de la Recherche (the French Innovation Agency) (ANVAR) and CRAFT in association with all those in Limousin who manufacture ceramics or who support the industry.

          
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