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Modern production methods discussed

Fine bone china or just plain earthenware - ceramics brighten up our homes and make food and drink even more tempting. Even so, their role has diminished significantly and crockery is now mainly chosen for design and domestic utility. However, it wasn't always like that; historically, pottery was culturally rich and in ancient times also a way of recording history. Here, Jez Watson, managing director at CD Automation UK discusses modern ceramics production methods in the context of recent EU legislation.  

Earlier this year, a new set of EU guidelines further restricting the amount of lead allowed under a maximum Threshold Limit Value (TLV) was introduced. The new directive has sent a shockwave through the industry, as major changes had to be made to manufacturing processes in the name of compliance.

The new piece of legislation illustrates best practice under which equipment, such as furnaces and kilns, should perform and addresses other compliance issues including safety, testing and traceability of recipes.

Industrial kilns, ovens and furnaces are used to finish the glazing on pottery and provide a distinctive sheen on the pattern. They normally offer the user the ability to control the profile for each specific process and load type. This allows manufacturers to control and adjust the intensity of the heat applied to the glazed object.
 
Controllers used in the process typically come with up to twenty segments per profile, also called recipes by potters, and allow for up to fifteen profiles to be stored. This feature is particularly important in light of the new legislation and allows manufacturers to trace certain batches and repeat if they were successful.
 
Other benefits of the controller include a delayed start, which allows a period of time to elapse before the controller starts a firing. For example, this could be used to take advantage of off-peak power, thus saving money.  This can also prove useful when delicate ceramics are being fired or when a special effect is desired.

Special functions like waiting are also available. Waiting is particularly useful whenever the process has a delay on the programmed setpoint to ensure the load has a ‘guaranteed’ period of temperature or time. Profile recovery is another function, which comes into play after an unexpected power failure to recover the settings of the unit.
 
The user friendly interface can be tailored to each manufacturer’s needs, from a simple front panel display showing the measured temperature value and target value, with indication of the active segment, to a more sophisticated touchscreen display with graphical representation of the process, containing a data logging facility.

Data logging is encouraged by the new EU directives, which ask for stricter traceability and repeatability of recipes.
 
Ceramics manufacturing was one of the first stages of the industrial revolution. Today, our industry needs to adapt its practices and create new and safer products. Recent EU legislation may appear difficult to manage, but manufacturers can confidently use monitoring and controlling equipment to improve their recipes and decrease lead levels.

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