The eleventh Greenitaly report, drawn up by the Symbola Foundation and Unioncamere, recognizes the achievements of Ceramica Catalano, which - together with its technological partner SACMI – is several years ahead in its creation of the “lights-out factory”. The result is better quality, reduced operating and environmental costs, specialization of workers.
The SACMI-Catalano project is examined in the eleventh Greenitaly report drawn up by the Symbola Foundation and Unioncamere. The analysis took into account 432 thousand Italian businesses that have invested in green products and technologies over the past 5 years. The partnership between SACMI and Ceramica Catalano was given particular attention since, with the first 4.0 factory pilot plant in the ceramic sanitaryware industry, the project is several years ahead of the most recent international standards concerning the environment and digital automation.
Of particular interest is “Life Cycle Design” (LCD), the system used to design and analyse the life cycle of a product, considering all its environmental and social implications. 7 years ago Ceramica Catalano was the first in Italy to adopt this logic in the sanitaryware manufacturing sector when it started up the first plant completely conceived according to this new approach involving all stages, from the supply chain to design, from production to logistics.
“In 2013 Ceramica Catalano had already completed the technological switch-over from traditional casting systems using plaster moulds to SACMI’s high pressure robotized casting systems”, explains Carlo Martino, Professor of Industrial Design at Rome’s La Sapienza University, consultant to Catalano (based in Fabrica di Roma - Viterbo) and co-author with Domitilla Dardi of the volume “Catalano. Il Design del Bagno nella Cultura d’Impresa”, edited by Sole 24 Ore Cultura.
The keypoint of the strategy, adopted in this first 4.0 factory pilot plant in the ceramic sanitaryware sector, was to “re-think the entire production process including all the various preliminary stages from the supply chain to the design. Then for the actual manufacturing stages – casting, drying, finishing, glazing, firing, logistics and quality control – to bring improvements from an LCD point of view by using measurable indicators. These same engineering and design stages were re-thought out starting right from the languages of communication in order to be interpolable with the subsequent prototype and production stages”.
The objective was achieved thanks to the partnership with SACMI, top international supplier of technology for the ceramic industry and leader, for the past 30 years, of the “revolution” in sanitaryware production based on high-pressure casting which uses process robotization and replaces traditional plaster moulds with porous resin moulds. “The casting stage is at the core of this new type of factory – explains the professor – because of its ability to keep all the main parameters (mould lifetime, cycle-time, water and energy consumption) under control”.
In particular, the porous resin shows extraordinary properties compared to a traditional casting sytem, due to the longer lifetime of the moulds, which can last for tens of thousands of cycles and then be sent to pre-determined disposal lines. The second aspect concerns the very idea of the sanitaryware factory: “when I visited Catalano for the very first time, twenty years ago – explains Carlo Martino – I remember a very dusty factory with heavy trolleys handled by workers and with considerable problems related to the disposal of moulds and waste water”.
Today’s factory is completely different, with zero dust levels, servo-assisted handling and production lines, and work-stages (such as robotized glazing) during which the operator is no longer in contact with the process but manages it directly from the control room. This revolution has gone hand-in-hand with the fundamental need to increase quality and output, reducing the risk of deformation and breakages. “With the technological switch-over we have passed from outputs in the range of 70% – with the remaining 30% made up of defective products and tonnes of rejects – to today’s 98%, with residual waste and rejects recycled back into the process”.
From casting to drying, Catalano, together with SACMI, has implemented latest generation systems for recovering the heat developed by the kiln which is then sent to the dryers and to heat the work areas. Another feature is the radio-guided transfer of the product up to the glazing and kiln loading stations. “This is a very complex process which takes into account the very idea of the product. Let’s take the WC bowl as an example: these systems have been developed hand-in-hand with the evolution of a new generation of rimless WC bowls and flushing systems which, from the 9 litres of the past, now use not more than 3.5 – 4 litres of water. Thanks to robotized glazing, it is also possible to apply a layer of glaze with an extremely fine grain size in a uniform and repeatable way, thus reducing porosity of the piece and obtaining more hygienic and easily cleanable surfaces in addition to ensuring a top quality product”.
This is why, concludes the Professor, the implementation of an LCD approach in a sanitaryware factory is related to the concept of “artificial intelligence”, not just that which allows most of the machines to be connected online – for an improved and more punctual process control - but also that which enables the sanitaryware piece to be designed considering its “history”, anticipating any possible critical factors for its production and optimizing the use of raw materials, energy and resources.
We refer here to digital modelling development, but also to the actual functional tests (and sustainability tests) which can be carried out even at a preliminary stage guaranteeing a good result during production.
Why is the most advanced sanitaryware factory in the world located in Europe and, in particular, in Italy? “The entire evolution that we have experienced – admits Professor Carlo Martino – has been facilitated and guided by specific European directives, from health & safety in the workplace, to emissions, from disposal of waste to the need to reduce water consumption both during manufacturing processes and during the whole lifecycle of the product”. Credit goes to Mario Rossi, Managing Director of Catalano, alongside SACMI, for being 10 years ahead of time (the first of the new generation solutions were installed starting in 2006) in setting a new international benchmark for the industry.
The main challenge for the future? Achieving 4.0 industry through a further increase in capacity for selecting and utilizing the enormous quantity of process data and also re-thinking what happens at the end of the lifetime of the product (for example a washbasin) which could be recovered and restored to use again. This, as an approach, would be a similar development to that which has taken place in the field of the disposal of electrical and electronic devices.