Digital transformation in the ceramic industry

The ceramics sector is one of the most prosperous in the Spanish economy, Spain being the first volume exporter in the European Union and the second in the world. The ability to quickly connect customer needs with production processes has been the main reason why ceramic producers have been able to maintain their competitiveness in the global market. This has made the ceramics sector the third contributor in volume to the surplus of  the trade balance of Spain, with total sales that almost reached 3.6 billion euros by the end of 2018.

The ceramics sector has been able to keep with Industry 4.0 because it is one of the sectors that invests the most in R&D&I. The desire to internalise the new tools of smart manufacturing has arisen from private companies and public institutions such as the Institute of Technology of Ceramics (ITC) or the Spanish Association of Manufacturers of Tiles and Ceramic Pavements (ASCER). These institutions serve as a digital transformation guide for businesses, preventing them from being left behind and going out of business.

 

At what stage of transformation is the ceramic sector?

Ceramic manufacturing processes are highly automated from the point of view of product handling and material processing. However, one of the most common problems in the traditional ceramic sector is that the machines and equipment responsible for each manufacturing phase are not interconnected, therefore limiting the overall efficiency of equipment (OEE). Although the digitalisation of the sector has been progressing over the last few years, there is still a long way to go in terms of automating and optimising the flow of data and information.

Transformation guarantees for the industry

Digital transformation is cross-cutting and applicable to any production sector. Its objective in the ceramics sector is to move towards more efficient, productive and sustainable processes, thus offering the following competitive advantages:

 

  1. Reduce Costs – Interconnectivity between devices and machine learning models streamline production processes and optimise expenses by cutting unnecessary costs.
  2. Reduce Power Consumption – New intelligent tools calculate optimal production levels and achieve the same results with minimal energy consumption.
  3. Reduce Test Inefficiency – Digital and simulation models (efficient and low-cost product test systems) can shorten the testing process and replace the slow and costly ‘Trial and Error’ methods.
  4. Reduce process and transition times – Work area automation and optimisation speeds up processes and eradicates pauses between phases.
  5. Enhance Product Quality – New processes enable the creation of smart designs and innovative products that generate market interest. In addition, the safety and reliability of the measurements of certain variables ensure the final quality of the product.
  6. Reduce Wastage – Energy savings and the use of previously wasted materials drive companies to reduce their environmental impact and pollution.

 

Real-life results: Ceramic industry 4.0

Companies such as Realonda have opted for industrial digitalisation with the support of Nexus Integra, which has provided them with a platform for integration, management and monitoring of plant operations. The result has been a product of the highest quality and a greatly sophisticated service that satisfy the current market demands.

Realonda sought to improve the levels of control of its production process in order to achieve optimised production management throughout its value chain. The digital tools and applications integrated by one unique platform have granted it advanced production systems, excellence in energy efficiency and the optimisation of its production and logistics processes.

A few years ago, a company in this same sector trusted digital equipment vendors to monitor its industrial activity. As a result, the company ended up losing control of its operations as the different data systems were not compatible and only allowed them to draw very general and simplistic productivity conclusions. The consequence was a series of inefficient productive assets that lead to the company’s inability to improve its strategy and to ensure the competitiveness of its product lines.

Nexus Integra understood the potential client’s need to connect the different parts of the process in order to standardise information and the following measures were taken:

  1. Implementation of a traceability system for each of the pieces of the multiple production lines and tracking of each of them, once integrated into the platform.
  2. Monitoring of all production system information through an extensive network of IoT sensors.
  3. Creation of a holistic database for tracking all information and data flows coming from the global production system, thus obtaining a more accurate and sophisticated OEE metric.
  4. Design of a Digital Twin that provides real-time information of production.

Through the implementation of the above mentioned measures, the ceramic company managed to control and optimise its production plant. They had access to up-to-date, structured and accurate data about their productive reality. In addition, they were able to optimise costs per piece throughout its supply chain, saving 20% in maintenance costs. Finally, it reduced the price of developing new technologies belonging to Industry 4.0 by 70%.

 

Future trends in the ceramics sector

Maintaining the global leadership position of this industry in global commerce is inexorably at the culmination of the digital transformation of the industry. ItC Industry 4.0 expert Juan Ignacio Cantero confirms this: “We are talking about a future that is already here”. The Spanish ceramic sector will continue to boom as long as companies can cope with the continuous redefinition and redesign of the market.

Digital disruption in the traditional housing materials industry is driving the expansion of the market for the most developed and innovative ceramic producers. Trends such as smart designs (self-washing and self-adapting), sustainable ceramic tiles, or energy-efficient ceramics are already booming. Ceramics companies must invest in new technologies so that their production and decision-making processes can keep pace with the industry.

The migration from traditional manufacturing to digital manufacturing is only the first step, but it will not be enough without an action plan that integrates each of the areas of the company and encompasses three fundamental fields:

  1. Measurement
  2. Ability to react
  3. Creation of new solutions

Nexus Integra: Platform of reference in the ceramic industry

The Nexus Integra platform has the expertise and infrastructure needed for your business to gain efficiency and transform into a 4.0 ceramic production plant. We guide you and provide you with the tools to make the path to digital transformation as flexible and intuitive as possible, adapting to your company needs at every stage of the way.