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New !!! 1st Master in technology of ceramic materials manufacturing.

CASTELLÓN: SPEARHEADING INDUSTRIAL ACTIVITY IN 2000

The ceramic tile industry, centred in the province of Castellón, is the industry that generates the greatest wealth in the Valencia Region, according to a recent report by the Valencia Autonomous Government. The report indicates that the management and production model of the ceramic sector have given rise to steady growth, despite the problems that still need to be solved, such as the need to improve infrastructures or the problems relating to the liberalisation of the natural gas price. The latter is an important issue, because the ceramic branch is Spain’s largest natural gas consuming industry, and rising gas prices have meant significantly higher production costs for the sector.

According to ASCER, the Spanish Ceramic Tile Manufacturers’ Federation, sector turnover reached between 530,000 and 550,000 million pesetas in 2000. This meant a rise of 12% in tile sales, said ASCER Chairman Mr. Fernando Diago during the Cevisama 2001 Trade Show.

The glaze, frit and ceramic colour branch posted excellent results in 2000. According to ANFFECC, the Spanish Association of glaze, frit and ceramic colour producers, export sales rose by 14% compared with 1999, reaching a turnover of 62,645 million pesetas. Domestic sales rose 2.25% compared with the foregoing year, with a turnover of 58,178 million pesetas.

Producers of machinery and capital goods also registered a 20% growth in sales in 2000 compared with 1999.

Figures from IMPIVA (Valencia Institute for small and medium-sized enterprise) regarding the period from 1996 to 2000 reveal that small and medium-sized companies invested almost 30,000 million pesetas in enlarging and establishing businesses in the province of Castellón. 20,000 million pesetas went to enlarging existing facilities, and 9200 million to establishing and starting up businesses. The same source indicates that of this capital outlay, 21,000 million pesetas were invested in the ceramic sector, 2515 million in the chemical industry, 1504 million in the food industry, and 722 million in the furniture industry.

KEY FEATURES OF THE SPANISH CERAMIC TILE SECTOR

World tile production was estimated at 3815 million square metres in 1999, involving a rise of 4% compared with the foregoing year. Spanish production however focuses primarily on quality, rather than on number of metres produced. In 1999 Spain produced 602 million square metres tile, a rise of 6.7% compared with the foregoing year.

The Spanish ceramic floor and wall tile sector is made up of 240 companies, of which 185 are located in the province of Castellón. In terms of production, the companies in Castellón manufactured 93% of total Spanish tile production in 1999.

Almost 95% of the companies in the ceramic tile sector are SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises, with fewer than 250 employees).

According to ASCER, domestic sales reached 216,000 million pesetas in 1999. Exports increased by almost 6% to 1578 million euros (262,636 million pesetas).

The largest Spanish tile export market was the European Union (mainly France, Portugal, United Kingdom and Germany), accounting for 44.4% of total Spanish tile export sales.

The second export region for Spanish tile is the United States, which is the top Spanish tile importing country. Spanish tile exports to the US grew by 18.9% and account for 11.6% of all Spanish tile exports. Canada, Mexico and the Middle East then follow at some distance.

Oceania is the fastest growing export market, with a rise of 22.2 %, though it only accounts for 1.6% of total Spanish tile exports.

With regard to tile imports into Spain, in 1999 these reached 38.7 million euros (6443 million pesetas), a rise of 17.9% compared with the foregoing year.

According to an economic study performed on a group of 21 of the most representative tile manufacturing companies, the sector is equipped to withstand a period of crisis, since it has the necessary autonomy to enable it to face times of recession, should they arise, owing to its high degree of technological development and reduced costs.

The studied group of companies accounts for 40% of total sector turnover.

Sources: Study conducted by KPMG auditors in 2001, funded by the Caja de Ahorros del Mediterráneo (CAM) and published in the journal Economía 3 (no. 107 March 2001).
ASCER (Spanish Ceramic Tile Manufacturers’ Federation).

PRINCIPAL CONCERNS AND CURRENT LINES OF WORK IN THE SPANISH CERAMIC SECTOR

The concerns of the Spanish ceramic sector essentially focus on:    

  • Improving production processes    
  • Product diversification    
  • Energy and environment    
  • Transport and infrastructures

    1.1 Improving production processes

    One of the distinguishing features of the Spanish ceramic technician is his continuous willingness to improve the production process and his readiness to incorporate the latest, optimisation-enabling technologies. Recent contributions to process optimisation have included:    

  • Spray-dryer automation    
  • Development of single-deck roller kilns for trials    
  • Improvement of porcelain tile polishing processes    
  • Development of end product sorting systems    
  • Harmonising raw materials control processes in frit and engobe production    
  • Development of water-based screen printing vehicles    
  • Reducing tile body weight

    1.2 Product diversification

    One of the issues of concern to Spanish tile manufacturers relates to the distinction between redware and whiteware products.

    Spain has traditionally produced redware ceramic tiles, as the available clays near the production centres contain iron. The term redware refers to the colour of the fired tile body, which distinguishes it from the so-called whiteware tiles, whose fired body has a white colour.

    Though whiteware products are more expensive, owing to the higher prices of the white-firing clays, they are widely found in the European markets with the highest purchasing power (Germany, United Kingdom, France, etc.), where there is intense competition between redware products, mainly produced by Spain, and whiteware products, mainly produced by Italy.

    In order not to lose market share, Spanish tile producers have been raising their production of whiteware tile, which currently stands at 20% of total production, as well as of porcelain tile (at present accounting for 10% of total tile production).

    The same trend can be observed in the development of glazed porcelain tile made with red-firing clays. Until now, porcelain tile had only been made with white-firing clays. The new product, which uses Spanish raw materials, enables valorising redware products and developing new colours for manufacturing decorated, polished porcelain tile.

    Product diversification is a very important issue for ceramic tile manufacturers, and entails finding new applications for ceramic materials. Projects have thus been undertaken, for example, to develop bodies capable of absorbing electromagnetic radiation, to insulate engines of electrical facilities in general, and protect electromagnetic wave emission systems and/or receivers from possible interferences (radar, television, etc.).

    New frits are also being developed to produce glazes with bactericidal properties (mainly for bathrooms and kitchens) and phosphorescent properties (signs). Other types of materials currently being studied are body formulations with conductive properties (antistatic tiles), for domains in which static electricity can be a problem (operating theatres, computer rooms, etc.).

    Intercomparative projects are being undertaken on different traditional facade cladding materials (marble, metals, etc.) and ceramic tiles. These projects are designed to highlight the advantages and drawbacks of using tiles in facade tilings, with a view to new possible applications.

    There is also great concern regarding the installation of ceramic materials. Appropriate tile installation is critical to the ultimate aesthetic and technical performance of a ceramic finish.

    1.3 Energy and environment

    The evolution of the natural gas price in recent years has been highly detrimental to the ceramic tile sector. In a little over two years, the price of natural gas has risen by 125%. This has raised production heating costs rise from 5-10% to 10-15% of total costs in this period of time.

    In 1999, Castellón tile manufacturers and frit producers paid 32,907 million pesetas for the natural gas they consumed, involving about 16,500 million therms.

    The Spanish ceramic sector accounts for 20% of domestic natural gas consumption, and is Spain’s main natural gas consumer. Though alternative energy sources and/or technologies are being studied, it is at present very difficult to substitute natural gas, as all the production systems are geared to this fuel. In the short term, if gas prices keep rising, the ceramic sector will have no choice but to raise end product prices, with the ensuing loss of competitiveness.

    This means that the energy savings plans, which were put on hold in the mid 80s owing to low heating energy prices at that time, are again becoming important as cost cutting measures. Current energy-saving strategies include:    

  • Recovery of cooling flue gases to the dryers and/or spray dryers    
  • Raising the cost-efficiency of existing cogeneration facilities with gas engines    
  • Preheating of kiln combustion gases

    Company environmental awareness is rising, though much still needs to be done. The main current environmental problems concern air pollution and noise. The problems stemming from sludge treatment have been practically solved by sludge recycling to the spray dryers.

    Great advances have been booked in the last three years in reducing spray dryer particulate emissions, by installing gas cleaning systems in most spray dryers. However, the problem of fritting kiln and tile firing kiln emissions remains pending.

    In air pollution there is an emerging issue, which is steadily becoming of greater concern. These are the so-called diffuse emissions. Diffuse emissions are particle emissions into the air which do not come from a specific emission source, e.g. the emissions arising in the clay reception, storage and homogenisation areas (yards), owing to the wind or air drag produced by trucks, or the emissions produced by trucks travelling without adequate protection, or which drive over non-paved roads.

    Given the current volume of solids being handled (36000 tons/day), the non-covered yards are becoming a serious problem for the environment. The same cause (volume of solids being handled), together with the fact that many access roads to the spray dryers are not paved, also gives rise to environmental problems from diffuse emissions.

    One of the most important lacunae in solid waste treatment is the lack of inert solid waste disposal sites and facilities at which toxic and hazardous wastes can be treated. In this sense, projects have been undertaken to attempt to recycle ceramic wastes (fired scrap, porcelain tile polishing waste) or wastes from other industrial sectors (marble cutting and polishing, etc.) in the production process.

    Two environmental problems are becoming endemic: noise and water shortage, which are more pronounced in certain municipalities of the area.

    According to ITC estimates, the ceramic sector consumes 30,000 m3 of water/day. 50% of this is water vapour, which is released into the air by the spray dryers. ITC is conducting a project on the feasibility of condensing part of the water being lost via spray dryer flues and reusing this in production processes.

    1.4 Transport and infrastructures

    All raw materials and finished products in the ceramic sector are transported by road.

    This has led to two different problems: growing transport costs owing to rising fuel prices and the need for more, improved infrastructures.

    THE INSTITUTO DE TECNOLOGÍA CERÁMICA, PROVIDING TECHNICAL SUPPORT FOR THE SPANISH CERAMIC SECTOR FOR OVER 30 YEARS

    The Instituto de Tecnología Cerámica (ITC) is a Technology Centre whose objective, since it was established over 30 years ago, has been to promote and develop whatever activities contribute to improving the ceramic sector, with a view to raising the sector’s competitiveness in the domestic and international marketplace. Over the years, ITC has specialised as a technology provider for the ceramic floor and wall tile manufacturing industry (Spain is currently the world’s second largest tile producer and exporter), and for the frit, glaze and ceramic pigment branch (Spain is the world’s top frit, glaze and ceramic pigment producer).

    The Instituto de Tecnología Cerámica is a Mixed University Institute, located on campus and integrated in the University Jaume I of Castellón, and receives support from IMPIVA (Valencia Institute for small and medium-sized enterprise), which pertains to the Valencia Autonomous Government.

    ITC currently has a staff of 75, consisting of 16 University lecturers, 35 University graduates, 9 technicians with medium-level qualifications and 15 administrative workers and service staff. The organisation is made up of three departments: Materials Engineering, Process Engineering, and Management and Technology Transfer. ITC chiefly works in raw materials, manufacturing processes and finished products. ITC performs research and development, technological consulting, technology transfer, and provides training and technological services in these fields.

    Of these activities, ITC principally focuses on conducting R&D; and technological consultancy projects aimed at solving concrete problems for companies in the ceramic sector. Over the last ten years, 325 projects have been carried out, to a total value of 1487 million pesetas. These activities have contributed decisively to the technological milestones achieved in the Spanish ceramic sector in recent years.

    The following are examples of a few of the most noteworthy technology actions of recent years, in which ITC has played a leading role: introduction of a system for measuring tile compaction; optimisation of suspension spray drying by using blends of deflocculants; in-process waste reuse (sludge); production of bodies and glazes with specific technical and aesthetic characteristics (conductive bodies, bactericidal glazes, glazes of high hardness, etc.); development of laboratory assemblies capable of reproducing the human gait to enable evaluating glaze durability; development of techniques for measuring temperature differences in dryers and kilns; optimisation of the use of zirconium silicate as a raw material in formulating frits, glazes and engobes; development of new glass-ceramic glazes with a greater opacifying strength, mechanical strength and hardness; design of glazes that enable producing flat items by adjusting the glaze-body fit, etc.

    Besides the direct benefits of R&D; actions for the companies (lower operating costs, process optimisation, development of new products, etc.), dissemination of the results of this work has yielded 270 papers in scientific and trade journals, over 300 communications at symposia and conferences, and 20 doctoral dissertations.

    From the very outset, ITC has considered the training of its own technical staff and that of companies in the ceramic sector a matter of prime importance. In fact, ITC has organised over 100 courses and seminars, which have been attended by over 3000 technicians from the ceramic sector. Since 1989, University lecturers in ITC having been delivering the Degree course in Chemical Engineering, with a Ceramic Technology profile at the University Jaume I of Castellón. It is to be noted that this is the first University Degree with a ceramic content being taught in Spain. Practically all of the 500 students that have graduated to date are working in this field, and account for 2% of the labour force directly employed in the ceramic tile sector.

    With scientific equipment worth about 1000 million at its disposal, ITC offers companies over 450 types of tests relating to ceramic materials or ceramic production processes. Tests include: chemical analysis, physical characterisation, mineralogical characterisation, study of defects, measurement of in-plant operating variables (flow rates, temperatures, gas analysis, etc.), waste characterisation, composition and raw materials control, finished product quality control, industrial wastewater analysis, etc.

    ITC has a top-ranking finished product testing laboratory with regard to number and range of tested ceramic products. In fact, it was the first laboratory in Spain to receive ENAC accreditation for issuing certificates on the quality of ceramic products (ceramic tiles, structural ceramics and sanitary ware). The laboratory is moreover a founding member of the international network of ceramic laboratories (CERLABS).

    ITC has an Information and Documentation Unit that attends to the need for information as a result of the scientific, technological, teaching and training work done both inside and outside ITC. ITC documentary resources include over 2000 monographs and reference works, 400 conference proceedings and 125 doctoral dissertations. Subscriptions are currently held to over 100 scientific and technical journals, and there are about 8000 technical articles, 4200 standards and 250 patents. Associated companies are offered a documentary dissemination service consisting of the publication of a quarterly bulletin, containing the indexes of the journals received at ITC.

    At present, ITC’s major lines of research focus on ceramic glazes with new performance characteristics, raw materials for manufacturing ceramic products, forming by uniaxial pressing, casting and extrusion, drying, wet and dry glazing, study of the physico-chemical transformations arising at high temperatures, waste reuse, development and improvement of new ceramic bodies, development of new quality control techniques and development of new products and techniques. The round 50 ongoing projects deal with subjects as wide ranging, for example, as:    

  • Low porosity glazes designed to improve stain resistance    
  • Special pigments to achieve a greater range of colours in porcelain tile    
  • New glazes with heightened abrasion resistance    
  • Optimisation of dryers to reduce breakage    
  • Enhanced whiteness in ceramic roofing tiles    
  • Screen printing inks with low organic component contents, to enable decorating ceramic tile with a lower environmental impact    
  • Optimisation of kiln energy-efficiency and eco-management    
  • New ceramic products made by reusing industrial wastes and sludges    
  • Optimisation of porcelain tile polishing    
  • Evaluation and improvement of the impact resistance of ceramic floor tiles    
  • New techniques for eliminating pollutants    
  • Automated control of the milling and spray-drying operation    
  • Use of microwaves in making ceramic materials

     

    For 1998 figures and more information, click here