Have a flick through the latest pages of
IMs weekly bulletin, or its monthly
magazine, and several headlines related to the ceramic clays
industry jump out, such as; Italian tile production
falls (23 December 2008), UK port
clay exports down (3 February 2009),
European ceramics demand drops (IM
February 09, p.24), Construction hit in CIS
countries (12 May 2009), Eastern
Europes building slump (13 May
Unfortunately for ceramic clay producers which
between them mined around 20m. tonnes of ball clay and 22m.
tonnes of kaolin in 2007 the demand for sanitaryware and
tile products (two of the biggest end uses for ceramic clays)
is directly linked to the fortunes of the construction and
The health of a countrys ceramics market (and
construction industry) is generally in line with its GDP. It is
interesting to note that although trends in the ceramics market
often mirror those seen in construction, there tends to be a
lag period of around 3-6 months. So while construction has been
depressed in many western countries since Q3-Q4 2008 (see
figure 2), the full effect of this is only now filtering
through to ceramics producers.
Keith Savage, sales director for UK-based ceramics
distributor Whitfield and Son Ltd, told IM:
The impact of the global downturn has been severe on the
ceramic industry, with reductions in the requirements for
sanitaryware, tableware and wall/floor tiles.
Talking in Europe recently I was informed that reduced
levels, up to 50%, have been seen since the beginning of the
year, and it is a case of everyone really controlling cost and
expenditures while we move through this period of
difficulty, Savage revealed.
This difficult period has even eaten into the operations of
the worlds largest industrial minerals group, Imerys SA,
which told IM: The groups turnover
dropped 21% in Q1 2009 versus Q1 2008, as a result of the
Putting this drop into context, Imerys annual turnover
for 2008 was 3,449m. ($4,680m.) with ceramics
accounting for around 10% of the overall figure. The
groups portfolio includes 29 minerals which together
accounted for 16m. tonnes in 2008. Production of kaolin (for
paper, performance minerals, and ceramics) was 25% of this
total (ie. 4m. tonnes), with ceramic kaolin representing not
more than 15% of this.
The story is the same for public and private companies
alike. Goonvean Ltd, Europes largest kaolin, china clay
and speciality minerals producer, explained
to IM that the downturn had contributed
to a significant over-capacity of ceramic kaolin within the
European producing region.
Robert Canning, Goonveans technical service manager,
said: Plant closures and short-time working, particularly
in Europe, have decreased demand for ceramic kaolin and other
Some kaolin producers have been moved to cut prices to
maintain sales volumes and have also reduced the number of
employees. At Goonvean we have changed working practices to
reduce capacity, whilst retaining the skill pool and production
capability, so we are prepared to increase output when the
market improves, Canning revealed.
While it may be true that traditional producers of ceramic
clay for example those based in south-west UK, the
Westerwald of Germany, or even the kaolin deposits of Georgia,
USA have felt the definite pinch of falling sales from
the construction sector, this is not the case world over.
In fact, for Asian ceramic clay producers, particularly
those in China and India, the situation is fairly positive.
Atil Parikh, joint managing director of Indian industrial
minerals company 20 Microns Ltd, told IM:
The Indian ceramic industry has been growing across all
segments driven by Indias booming construction sectors...
with vitrified tiles, glaze tiles, sanitaryware, bone china,
agglomerated marble, industrial ceramics and other applications
recording the fastest growth.
Although Indias ceramics producers have been
marginally affected by the downturn, Parikh
believes that reducing high energy costs is the primary
requirement for the sector: The ceramics sector is highly
energy intensive and uses both oil and electricity to operate.
Therefore, cutting energy costs [will help us] to remain
competitive during the global downturn.
Figure 1: Main ceramic clay end uses, USA,
Source: US Geological Survey: Clay and shale, 2007
Constructing the market
Although this article focuses on traditional
ceramics (see panel for definition), the main end uses for
ceramic clays come from: floor and wall tiles, sanitaryware,
tableware, roofing granules, pottery and electrical porcelain
(see figure 1). In other words ceramic end uses
are directly linked to construction and housing.
Using the UK as a western example, the Office for National
Statistics last month released its preliminary estimate of the
UKs GDP for Q1 2009. All in all, the UKs GDP fell
1.9% compared to the previous quarter, while construction in
the UK was down 2.4%. Compared to Q1 2008, however,
construction has fallen 8.6%.
Further, the Key Purchasing Managers Index for construction
from the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply (CIPS)
rose from 30.9 in March 2009 to 38.1 in April. This index
essentially illustrates that anything with a value below 50 is
falling, and anything below 40 is falling very fast indeed. So
although the rate of decline in UK construction slowed somewhat
in April, it is certainly nowhere near a stabilisation. What
does this mean for ceramics markets?
Floor and wall tiles
Clays and kaolins are integral constituents of a tiles
body, engobe and glaze, and the tile market demands properties
such as: high dry strength and plasticity, a light fired
colour, absence of dark specks, good vitrification properties
and consistent quality.
In practice, however, modern processing methods and tile
manufacturing plants have been developed to ensure that lower
quality, local clays, can be used to produce good
quality tiles from an economically attractive clay deposit.
This in part has contributed to a trend seen over the past
decade, where ceramic producers have begun to move away from
established sites (ie. Devon and Dorset, UK) to more low cost
base locations. Once there, producers have made significant
increases in capacity.
Goonveans Robert Canning concurred: This has
driven kaolin demand in Egypt, while the Middle East and Gulf
states continue to grow.
The majority of commercial sanitaryware production is done
via the slip casting process, which is most successful when the
rheological properties of the slip are controlled within set
limits. Rheological properties are dependent on the source clay
and kaolin, and in this sense there are only a few deposits
worldwide that meet the quality criteria for sanitaryware.
These criteria include: control of rheology, casting
performance, wet and dry strength, ease of dispersion,
deflocculation, particle size distribution, plasticity and
workability, purity, and consistency.
Thus despite the trend of established ceramic centres moving
to lower cost bases as seen in tile production
the higher quality clays found in Germany and the Ukraine, for
example, cannot be replaced by local clays.
Unfortunately for producers, demand for these higher quality
clays (and sanitaryware overall) has been offset recently owing
to the rapid decline in new construction projects.
Consultant Georg Fiederling, part of ceramic raw materials
consultancy Hans-Georg Fiederling-Kapteinat, told
IM: The clay miners of the Westerwald
are facing a reduction of 20-40% in sales, and for the first
time since WWII some of them are applying short-time
Frequently, kaolin is the only plastic material present in
porcelain and high quality tableware, and is always the most
predominant. In this sense, the source kaolin is largely
responsible for wet and dry strength of the body, plus its
plasticity and workability.
Tableware demands that the final product be very clean after
firing, contain no dark specks, and exhibit good translucency.
Desired criteria include: white fired colour, good
translucency, high dry strength (fine particle size), good
plasticity (also fine particle size), and consistency.
With regards to the evolution of the tableware market,
Goonveans Canning said: In tableware we have seen a
continued move away from formal tableware towards cheaper,
expendable almost disposable ware. In the ceramic
industry, as everywhere, the buzz words are low-cost and
In terms of overall market dominance, China is by far the
largest consumer of ceramic clays and the biggest manufacturer
of ceramic products. It led world sanitaryware production in
2007 with 28% of the market (approximately 311m. pieces
produced globally), produced 38% of all tiles (world total was
7,695m.m2), and surely held the most dinner parties
in 2007 with 49% of the tableware market (world total was
1,431m. tonnes, including porcelain and bone china
Whitfield & Sons Keith Savage remarked: The
country that has emerged as the biggest consumer of ceramic
clays without doubt is China. This is closely followed by India
and the Middle East, where there has been substantial growth in
the ceramics markets, specifically for sanitaryware, wall and
floor tile, and to a certain extent tableware.
Atil Parikh of 20 Microns agreed, commenting: The
Indian sanitaryware industry reflected an appreciable growth in
the last few years with leading global players like Duravit and
Kohler, for example, increasing their production
The total demand for organised manufacturers is
estimated at 9m. pieces and the unorganized sector at 13m.
pieces, growing at 12-15% pa, Parikh said. He estimated
that the Indian ceramic tiles industry, meanwhile, is worth
around Rs 60,000m. ($1,260m.), while the Compound Annual Growth
Rate of the industry has been around 14% over the past eight to
Although Indias ceramics market is perhaps one of the
healthiest globally, it too has not been able to deflect the
economic downturn entirely. Parikh said: The majority of
manufacturers saw some decline in production and sales. About
80% of building ceramic manufacturers have temporarily
restricted operations as half of their products are not finding
buyers in the domestic market.
The main concern for Indias ceramic miners and
producers at present appears to be high energy costs. Parikh
confirmed that ceramics manufacturers were looking for
concessions to bring down the cost of other, more efficient
energy types, such as electricity and diesel.
Figure 2: UK construction growth, 2006-2009
The view from the West
When it comes to the manufacture of ceramic goods, western
countries are lagging behind the rest of the world: they hold
23% of the sanitaryware market and 30% of the tableware market.
For tile production, meanwhile, only Italy (8%) and Spain (9%)
have made a significant dent in Chinas market share
This appears to have encouraged many western companies to
focus on value-added ceramic grades and move away from a
commodity-centred mentality. For western producers, it is
quality rather than quantity.
Whitfield & Sons Keith Savage commented: The
ceramic market is being driven at present, in my opinion, by
special ceramics. This would be items manufactured to very
tight tolerances with the ability for use in very special
Consultant Georg Fiederling revealed: This situation
has inspired a few people to develop new ideas for production
and products. A different and creative method to utilise the
Westerwald clays is being evaluated at the moment but
its too early to give more information.
The consensus between western ceramics companies is that
advanced ceramics will become increasingly important. This is
the utilisation of composite materials coupled with the need
for high temperature ceramic parts for use in friction and
other arduous conditions (see IM December 08, p.66:
Technical ceramics take off).
Advanced ceramics (also referred to as technical or
engineering ceramics) are considered non-traditional
as they utilise highly refined materials and new forming
Typical uses include: in processing and manufacturing
industries, where they may extend equipment life, decrease
emissions, increase energy efficiency; in power generation,
aerospace and transportation, where they increase specific
power, reduce weight, and decrease fuel use; and in military
applications, where they may expand the capabilities of
weapons, decrease equipment costs, and increase
The long-term future of traditional ceramics and ceramic
clays, for western producers at least, appears to lie in the
development of value-added products and speciality grades.
Canning revealed that Goonvean is currently developing its
product portfolio: We are looking further at adding value
to our kaolins by blending other minerals that would give
Indian producer 20 Microns, meanwhile, is in the process of
developing artificial ball clay to replace high quality,
expensive Ukrainian clay. We are also in the process of
developing low cost, super white clay, to reduce zircon
consumption. Lots of work is being done in this area and we are
hopeful to get a breakthrough soon, Parikh said.
Until the construction market picks up again, the near
future of traditional ceramics lies in cost reduction and plant
utilisation, while low fired temperature sanitaryware
(1,050-1,100°C) may gain popularity with those producers
conscious of energy conservation.
Selected world ball clay and ceramic kaolin
||Location (where known)
||Production/capacity tpa (where known)
|Adolf Gottfried Tonwerke
||Grossheirath, Bavaria, Germany
||Ball and ceramic clays
||Trivandrum, Kerala, India
|Ceské Lupkové Závody
||Rakovnik, Czech Republic
||Ball and ceramic clays
|Donbas Clays JSC
||Octyabrskoe and Dorozhnoe, Dobropolye District,
||Ball clay, ceramic clay
|Esan Eczacibasi Endustriyel
||Bozuyuk and Esan, Turkey
||Ball clay: clay beneficiation,
|Franklin Industrial Minerals (H.C. Spinks Clay
||Paris and Gleason, Tennessee, USA
|Goerg & Schneider
||Aarbergen, Tanus; Altendorf, Leuterod; Eisbach,
Girod; Guterborn, Boden; Gute Hoffnung, Siersahn;
Hahnenberg; Hub, Vielsbach; Zimmermann, Germany
||Ball clay and china clay
||Goonvean; Greensplat; Prosper; Rostowrack; Trelavour,
||Crenshaw, Mississippi, USA
||1m. tpa overall
||Gleason, Tennessee, USA
||Heathfield (Bovey Tracy), South Devon Ball Clays,
||Mayfield, Kentucky, USA
||Wareham, Dorset, UK
||Ploemeur and Berrien, France
||St Austell, Cornwall, UK
||Sandersville, Georgia, USA
||Langley, South Carolina, USA
||Arpatarla, Sindirgi, Balikesir Province; Tepekoy,
Buyuktepe, Can; Duman, Can; Kizildam, Yenice, Turkey
||Serbia: Devnya, Dmitrovgrad, Gorna Oriahovica,
Kaolinovo, Rgotina, Topolovgrad, Ub, Vetovo
||Ball and ceramic clays
||Ukraine: Buriakovsko Mestorozhdenie,
||Chlumzany, Czech Republic
||Horní Bzíza, Czech Republic
||Kaznzjov, Czech Republic
||Nová Ves, Slovakia
||Ball and ceramic clays
|Old Hickory Clay
||Gleason, Tennessee; Hickory, Kentucky, USA
||Auhofweiher and Maxhutte-Haidof, Bavaria,
||Ball and ceramic clays
|Samca Group (Euroarce)
||Ball clay, plastic clays
||Cornwood, Devon, UK
||Petrockstowe, Devon, UK
||Sibelco Gilfair, Hong Kong
||Ball clay, kaolin
||Quessoy, France; and Pervomiansk, Ukraine
|Stephan Schmidt Gruppe
||Group includes: Ceramat s.r.l., Cerargillum S.L.,
Marx Bergbau GmbH, Müllenbach & Thewald, MTG
Mittelhessische Tonbergbau, Progind International s.r.l.,
Stephan Schmidt KG, and Stephan Schmidt meißen
||Kaolin, ceramic clay
Source: Industry sources
Ceramic clays: types and uses
For the purpose of this article, the term ceramic
clays refers to ball clay and kaolin products when used in
traditional ceramic applications; for example, porcelain,
sanitaryware, tableware and tiles. Heavy clay products
which comprise bricks, drainage pipes, roofing tiles
plus special clays, are beyond the scope of this article.
Industry sources estimate that around 75% of ceramic clays
production comprises lower grade, red- or pink-burning
material, commonly used in tile bodies, while the remaining 25%
consists of geologically rarer, light-burning plastic
The name ball clay is derived from the original
method in the UK for extracting clay by cutting it into
1ft3 blocks that became rounded during
transportation to form balls. Globally, around 20m. tonnes of
ball clay were produced in 2008.
Composition: Ball clay is a fine-grained
and primarily kaolinitic sedimentary clay, which has high
plasticity; the higher grades of this material may be fired to
a white or near-white colour. Typically ball clay is a
fine-grained mixture of 70% disordered kaolinite plus illite,
quartz, montmorillonite, chlorite and small amounts of
Contaminants may include dolomite, gypsum,
iron/titanium oxides, pyrite and siderite.
Properties: Ball clay is used in ceramic
bodies to provide plasticity and strength, while the higher
grades may also impart a light cream to white fired colour.
Ball clays can increase the workability and strength of a
Mining: The majority of ball clay deposits
are mined by digger and undergo minimal processing, such as
shredding and blending, although for some applications (such as
sanitaryware) the ball clay is wet-refined.
Locations: Ball clay deposits are found
throughout the world, in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China, Czech
Republic, France, Germany, India, Italy, Malaysia, Thailand,
Turkey, UK, Ukraine, USA, and Vietnam.
Kaolin is a corruption of the Chinese word
Kau-ling, or Geo-ling, referring to the high ridge
close to the town of Jaucha Fu, Jiangxi Province, where kaolin
is thought to have been extracted during the third century BC.
Globally, around 7m. tonnes of high grade, ceramic kaolin were
produced in 2008, while lower grade kaolin production was 15m.
Composition: The average composition of
kaolin is Al2Si2O5
(OH)4: or around 46% silica, 40% alumina and 14%
water. Kaolin is a soft white, plastic clay, comprising ordered
kaolinite and a low iron content. When washed it is made up of
a loose aggregation of randomly oriented stacks and
micron-sized kaolinite flakes.
Properties: Coarse kaolin, containing
little or no smectite, has good casting properties for the
production of sanitaryware (ie. high casting rate and casting
concentration). Kaolin with low iron and titania, but some
smectite (for strength), is suitable for tableware
particularly where fired properties are important. Kaolin
intended for firing as a ceramic must have a high alumina
content, as well as a low amount of fluxing and colouring
The main applications of ceramic kaolin include
sanitaryware, tableware, porcelain, bone china, and tiles.
Mining: The majority of kaolin is processed
via wet refining to remove quartz and other coarse particles,
while particle size reduction can be achieved by processing in
cyclones and centrifuges. After processing, kaolin is pressed
Locations: Kaolin deposits are found
throughout the world, in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China,
Czech Republic, France, Germany, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia,
Portugal, Spain, Thailand, Turkey, UK, Ukraine, and USA.
Main ceramic uses
World sanitaryware production, 311m. pieces, 2008*
World sanitaryware production, 311m. pieces,
World tableware production, 1,431m. tonnes, 2008*
Source: Industry sources
World tile production, 7.695m.m2,
Source: Industry sources