Portuguese creativity and know how in ceramics is above the world average

Post Eng Fernando Perpetua

Ceramics present and future – a Fernando Perpétua vision

Portuguese will continue to play high in the world panorama when speaking of ceramics. I also foresee an increasingly attractive future for young people in this area. Last but not the least, I highlight ceramics as being able to help our lifestyle to be more and more environmentally sustainable.

The world is constantly changing, sometimes slower, sometimes very fast. However, the acceleration, has been quite high in recent years.

Companies have to be aware of all the changes that happen daily.

Portugal is fashionable, and this is a window of opportunity, not to be missed, all Portuguese products, not only ceramics, are well received in international markets, therefore we must know how to take advantage of this good moment.

We have to ask ourselves why are we fashionable

I think this is mainly due to three main factors, among others:

  1. Due to our creative capacity being above the international average;
  2. Trust, nowadays we have high credibility at international level;
  3. We have knowledge and know-how above international average.

Businessmen know well, that the future of companies is not made only today, on the contrary, it must be done always. Who stops, risks not to recover and stay behind. Together, we will certainly be stronger and will go further.

Nowadays there is a lot of talk about 4.0 companies, with a very strong focus on information technologies.

The information technologies and integrated production management, are not a novelty of today, within the Ceramic Industry in Portugal, and they are more and more daily work tools.

Currently we live in an atypical time due to Covid-19, which we do not know when it will end.

The companies have, once again, to reinvent themselves, to maintain the business at an international level, since there are no fairs or face-to-face meetings, in order not to lose business the key is to use information and communication technologies.

Contacts and meetings must continue to be made via Skype. The fairs are virtual via direct selling platforms. Everything must continue and nothing must stop, these are the new challenges to create business and, regardless of the sector, they must be embraced by everyone.

Portuguese ceramics will certainly stand out in the world panorama in all ceramic industry sub-sectors.

Ceramic industry is a millenary industry, it has gone through many crises throughout its life, but it has always been able to resist, reinvent itself and become increasingly stronger, it will not be the Covid-19 pandemic that will destroy this industry now.

For centuries ceramics was a traditional and very closed industry, however, in the last decades of the 20th century, the paradigm completely changed.

A remarkable evolution has taken place in the ceramic industry, through automation, where the technological factor has been determinant for the reconversion and automation of companies.

The entrepreneurs who had the vision, dynamics and capacity to invest in knowledge, in the reconversion and technological modernisation of companies, made a significant leap in relation to the state of the Art of the ceramic industry in Portugal.

The investment was initially directed towards the technological reconversion and modernisation of the production process, the automation of operations, the increase of installed capacity, the streamlining of energy consumption, faster kilns with automated loading/unloading. The investment in innovation, design, quality and the creation of new products were predominant factors in the conquest of new markets.

More than obtaining gains in competitiveness, companies have started a new era in the ceramic industry, where tradition, innovation and design are combined in an adjusted and harmonious way to create greater value to customers through excellence in the offer of traditional products with quality, differentiators, with design and innovation.

Knowledge centres were created, fundamental in the evolution of the ceramic industry in our country, such as:

  • Universidade de Aveiro (University of Aveiro)
  • Instituto Politécnico de Viana de Castelo (Polytechnic Institute of Viana do Castelo)
  • Centro Tecnológico da Cerâmica e do Vidro em Coimbra (Technological Centre of Ceramics and Glass in Coimbra)
  • Cencal nas Caldas da Rainha (Cencal in Caldas da Rainha)

University of Aveiro, besides training engineers for the Industry, carried out the survey, characterisation and selection of all raw materials existing in the country, developed new products especially technical ceramics, supported companies in the creation and development of new products. It also supported the creation of Technological Centres and Polytechnic Institutes.

The Technological Centre of Ceramics and Glass in Coimbra and Cencal in Caldas da Rainha, supported the companies in the field, through chemical and physical analysis of raw materials, products, training of staff and product certification.

In technological terms, we are currently, at the best international level, we have some of the best companies in the world. Nowadays, the quality level of our products are compared with the best ones made internationally.

In relation to creativity and know-how we are above what is done worldwide

The exports of Portuguese ceramic products are already in a recovery phase, albeit slow!  Let us see:

According to statistic data provided by the INE, from January to June 2020, Portuguese exports of ceramics in the months of January and February 2020, had a positive variation of 0.6% and 0.2% compared to the same months of the previous year 2019, not yet reflecting the effect of Covid-19, only from March 2020, this effect began to be visible, with a reduction in Portuguese exports in just about all international markets.

Always using the same comparison period of 2019 and 2020, the reduction in exports were as follows:

March 2020, -11.9%, April 2020, -41.3%, May 2020, -46.8%, June 2020, -6.7%, July 2020 -6,0%.

In this analysis one can conclude that we are reaching the recovery phase, although very far from total recovery.

Losses during the peak of the pandemic, between April and May 2020, will be difficult to recover.

In the first half of 2020, exports of ceramic products achieved 150 international markets, reaching a value of around 299,5 million euros.

While ceramic imports in the same period amounted to 91 million euros.

The balance of our trade balance of ceramic products was in the order of 208.2 million euros, the coverage rate for exports vs imports was 328.7%, while the average coverage rate for all goods was 77.1%, this analysis highlights the importance that the Ceramic Industry represents, in exports of tradable goods, to the country.

Is the ceramic industry attractive to young people? Will it continue to be attractive to young people?

My answer is yes to both questions.

The Ceramic Industry, even the artisanal one, has nothing to do with what we had in the past.

Today, the Ceramic Industry successfully uses a range of technologies and organisational models typical of the high-tech industry, integrating in a model way the new digitisation and information technologies, advanced manufacturing technologies and traditional technologies.

This allows companies to provide their customers with products of excellence, differentiating, with quality, design and innovation, that is to say, create pieces in ceramic with art.

And this is why, in my point of view, this challenge captivates young people to the ceramic industry, to work with new technology, information and digital technologies, design, innovation.

Nowadays designers have an important role in the companies’ structure, they are the creative part of the company, both in the creation and development of the company own products, and in supporting the customers own designers in the development of their products.

It was not always like this, when I was younger the first designers who started working with industry in general felt a great difficulty in the acceptance of their projects. I remember it was said that good design was the one that created doable pieces with good market acceptance. Thankfully and for everybody sake, the mentality of today is completely different, much more open, always ready for new challenges. Thus, opening the doors to creativity. It was all this that leveraged and awaked the interest of art and design creators from all over the world, coming to Portugal in search of our creativity and art, to develop their projects successfully.

If I am asked if ceramics is one of the green industries I would say yes!

Ceramic products are not disposable, they are long-lived products that, even at the end of their life, can be recycled.

The circular economy, has always lived inside ceramics and so it continues. All the waste (shavings) from the forming and finishing, are recycled, treated and added to the production pastes. The waste from glazing firing can and is recycled as inert and used in construction.

We also highlight that ceramics have responded and interacted with other industrial sectors as a waste giver, e.g. gypsum moulds are reused as raw material in the cement industry in order to contribute to environmental improvement and zero waste.

We comply with environmental rules and rationalise energy consumption. For all this we can conclude that the ceramic industry is environmentally friendly.

Text by Eng. Fernando Perpétua:

Founding partner of Perpétua, Pereira & Almeida (S. Bernardo).

Graduated in Ceramics and Glass Engineering, was the industrial director at SPAL for over 20 years, is also a renowned trainer in the fields of ceramics and glass and was vice-president of APICER and the Portuguese Society of Ceramics and Glass.