End User Focus: China’s sanitaryware dominance continues

Published: Thursday, 28 April 2011

In just over 25 years, China’s sanitaryware industry has grown more than 2,000% to 174.1m. pieces. Eileen Hao and Ian Wilson outline the country’s main producers and examine growth challenges for the future

Sanitaryware denotes fitments in bathrooms such as washbasins, toilets, bidets and shower trays all associated with personal hygiene. These items form an essential part of a modern civilised standard of living. However, there are still some 2.5bn people in the world who do not have access to toilets and proper sanitation which to leads to poor hygiene and subsequent illness in many countries.

Almost all sanitaryware is made by slip casting and the major four components of what is known as vitreous china (VC) are quartz, feldspar, ball clay and kaolin. Their main function and problems that can be encountered with incorrect recipes are shown in Table 1 (see panel).

World sanitaryware production is dominated by vitreous china, but fine fireclay (FFC) is an increasingly important segment of the market. In FFC, the pre-fired or calcined clay is the single most important component and can account for over 40% of the body.

Within China there is chamotte production and American Standard have FCC output. French group Imerys produces a low-alumina sanitaryware chamotte provided by the AGS plant in south-west France. The chamotte remains inert in the FFC body as it is pre-fired at 2,500-2,900¡F, acting as a skeleton that produces pieces with reduced deformation and shrinkage.

It is possible for FFC producers to ensure that the balance of chamotte, plastics and other components is correct and the total shrinkage can be as low as 4%.

Raw material suppliers

There are many suppliers of raw materials for sanitaryware and one of the leading companies is Imerys with ball clays and china clay (kaolin) from south-west England, UK and plastic clays, kaolin, chamotte and feldspar from Europe, Asia and North America. Sibelco is another important company which supplies the sanitaryware industry on a wordwide basis with clays, kaolin, feldspar, fluxes, silica and speciality ceramic minerals.

Goonvean Ltd, a privately owned company based in Cornwall, UK, has specialised in kaolin for the sanitaryware industry for over 30 years. A number of different grades are offered which include strong plastic clays and fast casting clays, such as Diamond Sanitaryware and Diamond Swift respectively. Customers choose their blends to suit their specific requirements.

Diamond Swift uses a patented process developed specifically for pressure casting. Current sales are approximately 40,000 tpa and whilst the UK market has shrunk dramatically Goonvean has diversified into new export markets worldwide with some volume being maintained within the UK and Europe.

Global production

The global sanitaryware production for 2010 is estimated at 450m. pieces (referred to as mpcs) dominated by China with 38% (171 mpcs) as shown in Figure 1.

The major growth for sanitaryware has been China, South East Asia, Mexico, South America and the Middle East. Production in Western Europe and the USA has decreased significantly owing to closures of plants and increased imports.

Figure 1: Global sanitaryware production, 2010 (450m. pieces)

UK sector

In the UK the following sanitaryware plants have closed since 1999 Ð Twyfords Queenborough, Twyfords Alsager, Ideal Standard Hull, Ideal Standard Excelsior (Armitage Shanks) Stoke, Ideal Standard Woodville (Swadlincote), Armitage Shanks Barr Head (Glasgow), Jacuzzi UK Bradford, Heritage Bathrooms Bradford, Trent Bathrooms Stoke, Shires Bathrooms Stoke, Qualceram Arklow and Allia Bathrooms Stoke.

It was announced in January 2011 that Ideal Standard Middlewich would close with a 90-day consultation period. This will leave Ideal Standard Rugeley as the only significant sanitaryware plant in the UK.

Japanese markets

Toto and Inax are the most important Japanese ceramic sanitaryware producers, with sanitaryware production plants in Japan but also established sanitaryware manufacturing plants worldwide. Toto’s Atlanta, USA plant is considered as the most advanced sanitaryware manufacturing plant in the world.

Inax Corp. has made a rapid and significant contribution to helping the victims of the 11 March 2011 earthquake and tsunami through the donation of emergency materials, including windows, tents for temporary accommodations and materials for improving sanitary conditions.

According to Ceramic World-Web, Inax suffered no damage to its plants although a number of showrooms and warehouses located in the north of the country were seriously damaged. Business activities located in the affected areas have been suspended to save energy and assure the safety of employees, who are working to provide aid to the rest of the population.

Mexican ceramics

Mexico is an important producer of sanitaryware especially from the Monterrey area. Major ceramics companies in Mexico include Ideal Standard, Kohler, Lamosa, Vilbomex, Orion, Cato, Procemex, Confort Elegante, Anfora, Toto, Nacesa, Cermosa, Cegomex, Desarrollos Ceramicsos and Helvex.

Helvex is investing in the central state of Guanajuato to start up its new plant to build sinks and other bathroom equipment with a capacity producing 150,000 products per month.

Toto started a new plant in 2008 in Monterrey. Toto Sanitarios de Mexico produces high quality toilets, basins and pedestals mainly for the US market. Vitromex manufactures and sells ceramic sanitaryware, ceramic floor/wall tiles and accessories for bathrooms. It is now recognised as one of North America’s most important companies for the production and sales of ceramic floor and sanitary ware.


Karat Sanitaryware was established in 1983 with production facilities for bathroom fixtures. In 2002, Karat became part of Kohler and changed its name to Kohler (Thailand) Public Co. Ltd.

Today, Kohler Thailand has production facilities in Kang Khoi district, Saraburi with multiple world-class vitreous china factories, making the company one of the largest sanitaryware manufacturers in Asia.

Products are sold under three brands: Kohler, Karat and Englefield. Clay from the Imerys Ranong deposits (kaolinised granites) are sold to Karat and are characterised by their very high casting rates owing to the presence of halloysite and kaolinite.

Middle East

A fast developing country based in UAE is RAK Ceramics. The publicly-listed RAK Ceramics is currently the world’s largest manufacturer of ceramic and porcelain tiles accounting for more than $1bn global sales annually.

The company’s global production of tiles exceeds 360,000 sqm and 12,000 pieces of sanitaryware per day from its state-of-the-art manufacturing plants in the UAE, China, Sudan, Bangladesh and India.

RAK Ceramics has two modern bathware plants which produce over 2.5m. ppa. They are manufactured with the latest technologies including a high-pressure casting bench and robot-spraying equipment which gives each piece of bathware an even finish. RAK also has 10 medium pressure casting plants for production of wash basins, pedestals, cisterns, lids and accessories.

The latest Italian technology for production includes computerised kilns and for manufacturing ABS seat covers and acrylic bath. Fire clay models are also produced using modern technology.

China the world leader

Chinese sanitaryware production has increased from 7.32m. pieces (mpcs) in 1984 to 174.1 mpcs in 2011. The production and exports from 1997 to 2010 are shown in Figure 2.

Production growth slowed down from 2007 to 2009 due to the global financial situation, but production in 2010 increased again. Exports as a percentage of production from 1997 to 2010 are shown in Figure 4.

Since 2006 exports in mpcs have stayed much the same but as a percentage of production have decreased from 41.94% in 2006 to 31.47% in 2010. The total Chinese export value in 2008 was $817.5m. decreasing in 2009 to $667.6m. with the average unit price dropping from $14.51 to $12.42 per piece. Decreasing exports are also due to growing Chinese domestic demand and growth in the economy; this trend is expected to continue.

Figure 2: Chinese sanitaryware output and exports, 1997-2010 (mpcs)

Figure 4: % Chinese sanitaryware production exported, 1997-2010

Chinese sanitaryware producers

In China there are approximately 3,000 sanitaryware companies with the top twenty international sanitaryware companies all with operations in the country, including: Toto, Kohler, Roca, American Standard, Inax, Duravit and others.

There are about 20 Chinese national brands which are well established such as Tangshan Huida Ceramics Group, Arrow Ceramics Co. Ltd, Guangdong HegII Sanitaryware Co. Ltd, Chongqing Swell Ceramic Industry Group, Sichuan Monarch Sanitaryware Co Ltd and Foshan EAGO Sanitaryware Co. Ltd. The three major areas for Chinese sanitaryware production are Chaozhou, Guangdong province, Changge, Henan province and Tangshan, Hebei province.

The 30 leading companies in China, accounting for 35% of production, are shown in Table 4 with details of capacity (pieces per year) and ownership.

Table 4: Leading Chinese sanitaryware companies

Leading companies Capacity (pieces pa) Chinese ownership Foreign ownership
Tangshan Huida Ceramic Group 9,000,000 Private
Foshan SSWW Sanitaryware Co. 5,000,000 Private
Chongqing Swell Sanitaryware Co. Ltd. 4,500,000 Chongqing Light & Textile
Jomoo Sanitaryware Co. Ltd. 4,000,000 Shareholding
Bolina Sanitaryware Co. Ltd. 3,600,000 Shareholding
Monopy Ceramic Co. Ltd. 3,500,000 Shareholding
Kohler (Foshan Plant & Zibo Plant) 3,500,000 Kohler,USA
Annwa Ceramic Co. Ltd. 3,500,000 Private
Roca (Foshan, YING & Giessdorf) 3,400,000 Roca, Spain
American Standard (3 plants) 3,000,000 (VC+FFC) Inax, Japan
Faenza Ceramics Co. Ltd. 3,000,000 Private
HegII Ceramics Co. Ltd. 3,000,000 Private
Arrow Brand Ceramics 3,000,000 Private
CRW Bathrooms 3,000,000 Private
Oumer Ceramic Industrial Co. Ltd. 2,500,000 Private
Milim Ceramics 2,500,000 Milim, S. Korea
Hocheng China Co. Ltd. (HCG) 2,500,000 HCG, Taiwan
Toto Group (3 plants) 2,000,000 Toto, Japan
Foshan Micawa Ceramic Co. Ltd. 2,000,000 Private
Gold Sanitary Ware Co. Ltd. 2,000,000 Shareholding
Victor Bathroom Products 2,000,000 Private
Shenluda Group 2,000,000 Shareholding
EAGO Sanitaryware Co. Ltd. 1,500,000
Dongpeng Sanitaryware Co. Ltd. 1,500,000 Shareholding
Henan Jieda Ceramic Group 1,500,000 Jieda, shareholding
Henan Dayu Ceramic Group 1,500,000 Dayu, shareholding
Imperial Bathroom 1,000,000 Imperial, Hong Kong
Dynasty Ceramic Sanitaryware Co. Ltd 1,000,000 Shareholding
Suzhou Inax Sanitaryware Company Ltd 500,000 Inax, Japan
Duravit (Chongqing) Sanitaryware Co. Ltd 500,000 Duravit, Germany
TOTAL 81,500,000
Source: Eileen Hao 2011

Figure 5: Chinese production by province (174.1 mpcs)

Regional Chinese production

A split of the 174.1 mpcs in China in 2010 is shown in Figure 5. Henan province with 83 mpcs accounts for 47% of total production with three provinces - Henan, Guangdong and Hebei - accounting for 77% of total production.

Increasing production costs

Costs of ceramic raw material prices have been rising since early 2010 with pigment prices increasing by 15-30% and frits by 20%. Some chemical raw materials have increased by more than 100% and the price of coal has risen from RMB500/tonne ($107/tonne) to RMB1,000/tonne ($153/tonne).

In addition, labour costs, logistics, water and power prices are all increasing. At present the increased costs are not being covered by increased sales prices with cost increases in 2011 predicted to be around 25%.

The government is also introducing measures to control speculation in real estate and rapid increases in property prices. The anticipated downturn in real estate is likely to lead to total sales of sanit aryware being less in first half of 2011 than 2009.

Energy saving and emissions reduction are being sought with some ceramic companies even being ordered to stop production.

MB appreciation and anti-dumping

It was predicated that the RMB would appreciate 4-6% in 2011. RMB appreciation is not only promoted by international overseas factors but also by the need to restrain inflation in China’s domestic market. However, most of the Chinese sanitaryware exports are settled based on US dollars. RMB appreciation against the dollar reduces the profits of Chinese sanitaryware exports.

In addition, Chinese sanitaryware exports are also affected by anti-dumping in overseas markets. Chinese sanitaryware exports will be facing more difficulties and challenges in 2011. Therefore some sanitaryware exporting companies in China have been putting more effort into the Chinese domestic market.

Urbanisation, village development and new sales and distribution concepts are also bringing new growth opportunities for the Chinese sanitaryware industry in the domestic market. China’s domestic market has been keeping the growth rate of 15% per annum. With the development of Chinese rural areas, demand from the rural market will keep increasing.

The future

By 2015, Chinese sanitaryware production is estimated to reach 220m. pieces with exports at 70m. pieces. Gross profits for the industry have been up to 30% since 2005 but with increasing costs this will be reduced to nearer 20% in 2011.

The main sanitaryware uses for China’s domestic markets are residences (68.79%), hotels (10.7%), restaurant and entertainment facilities (6.19%), offices (1.30%) and others (13.02%).

By 2015, the average overall energy consumption of Chinese sanitaryware is targeted to be lower than 700 kgce/t. From 2010 to 2015, lighter weight and water-saving sanitaryware are to be promoted in China.

Regional Chinese sanitaryware production by province

Eileen Hao, independent consultant, specialises in a wide range of industrial minerals and market sectors such as ceramics, glass, paper, lithium compounds, rare earths and other minerals. She has been involved with industrial minerals for 16 years and has worked for English China Clays (ECC), Imerys, Roskill, Active Minerals International and other companies.

Ian Wilson, independent consultant, joined ECC in 1974 and retired from Imerys after 28 years service in 2001. Wilson has worked mainly as a geologist worldwide with ECC and also was MD of ECC do Brasil and joint MD of CEDESCA in Spain. Wilson was project manager for ECC’s new GCC operations in Sweden and China. Since “retiring” in 2001, Wilson has worked as an independent consultant involved in many industrial minerals including kaolin, ball clay, talc, barytes, special clays, halloysite, magnesite, calcium carbonate (GCC and PCC), and raw materials for ceramics, performance minerals and paper markets.

Sanitaryware at a glance

Almost all sanitaryware is made by slip casting and the major four components of what is known as vitreous china (VC) are quartz, feldspar, ball clay and kaolin (Table 1).

Table 1: Main components of a sanitaryware body and their functions

Mineral Main function Problems with wrong recipe
Quartz Main role in firing process. Helps retain the original shape Too much quartz. Mismatch of glaze and body leads to cracking after firing
Feldspar Main role in the firing process where it forms glass Too much feldspar. Over vitrification causes deformation and/or bloating
Ball clay Influences unfired or green strength due to fine particle size Too much ball clay. Causes problems with dewatering during casting
Kaolin Good casting due to particle packing allowing dewatering Shortage of feldspar -high porosity - and quartz results in glaze/body mismatch

Typical particle size distribution values for kaolin, ball clays (very fine), non-plastics (quartz and feldspar -coarse) and the body are shown in Table 2.

Table 2: Particle size distribution (wt.%) of kaolin, ball clays, non-plastics and sanitaryware body

Particle size range <5µm <2µm <0.5µm D50
Kaolin 60-70 35-40 15-25 3–4
Ball clays 80-90 70-60 45-55 0-5
Non-plastics 20-25 8–12 0-5 10–15
Body 50-60 35-40 20-25 4–5

Source: N.P. Glasson & N.R. Forbes, cfi/Ber. DKG 78 (2001) No.3

Raw material percentage components of sanitaryware for vitreous china are shown in Table 3.

Table 3: Components for sanitaryware for vitreous china

Raw material Kaolin Ball clay Silica sand Flux (feldspar)
% for vitreous china 20-30% 20-30% 20-30% 20-30%

Selecting raw materials

The major influences on the properties of a casting slip are the ball clays and kaolin that are used and these are selected on the basis of:

a. Ease of dispersion and deflocculation during slip preparation;

b. Rheological stability of the casting slip;

c. Good casting performance in conventional and pressure casting systems;

d. Good strength, plasticity and workability of the cast piece.

Source: Tim Golder (cfi/Ber. DKG 84 (No. 1-2)

Stable fired properties, and in particular pyroplasticity, are also necessary considerations. As well as these physical characteristics important factors in the choice of clays also include consistency, reliability of supply and controlled levels of impurities such as water soluble salts.

Traditionally, ball clays are said to be mixtures of kaolinite, illite and quartz. Recent detailed studies of ball clays from Devon show that the mineralogy is more complicated. A typical ball clay examined by XRD, shows Mica 2M1 (refers to the polytype of the mica, basically a 2M1 muscovite type mica). I/IS refers to illite and mixed-layers illite-smectites with presence of kaolinite, quartz, orthoclase, plagioclase and anatase (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: SEM of ball clay

Other sanitaryware minerals

addition of wollastonite to sanitaryware can reduce cracks, eliminate pre-drying, vitrifying temperature can be reduced by up to 20oC, and the acicular nature gives rise to faster drainage thus increasing the casting rate.

Talc: sometimes used as a flux to reduce the firing temperature, especially for sanitaryware bodies designed for lower firing temperatures below 1,200C. Talc is also added to sanitaryware bodies (2-5%) to achieve better thermal stability. Talc is often used in glaze at around 2-4% to improve the bonding/joining between glaze and body.

Zircon:  the main use of zircon in the ceramics industry is as an additive to glazes used on ceramic tiles to provide opacity. The sanitaryware industry is a major market for zircon, where it is added to the high-gloss glaze as an opacifer. The zircon for sanitaryware as an opacifer is ground to 95% passing 45µm. Other grades, which are micronised, have a d50 of 1.2µm with a size range of 0.2-6µm.

Chinese sanitaryware acquisitions and expansions

  • On 18 May 2009, Inax acquired American Standard Asia Pacific for Û112m. ($160m.)
  • In August 2006, Roca acquired Eagle Brand Holding’s subsidiary, Eagle Brand Bathroom Products Co., for RMB 250m. ($38m.) and formed a new company called Xinle Bathroom Products (“Ying”) Co. Ltd.
  • In March 2009, Xinle Bathroom Products (“Ying”) Co. Ltd. acquired Giessdorf Bathroom & Kitchen Co. Ltd. located in Jiangmen, Guangdong province.
  • In 2009, SCIEN Sanitaryware was acquired by Zhuhai Boao Bathroom Products (subsidiary of Seagull Group).
  • In December 2009, Zhangzhou Wanjia Ceramic Industry Co. Ltd. Ð a subsidiary of Bolina Italiana Sanitaryware acquired US company Western Pottery Inc.
  • Xiamen Lota and HCG jointly invested $35m. in 2009 and established Yota (China) Co. Ltd producing and selling bathroom and kitchen units in China.
  • In December 2010, French T&B Investment Co. and Foshan Baili Sanitaryware & Bathroom Products formed New Foshan Baili Sanitaryware & Bathroom Products.
  • In 2010, Nanjing Dalang Materials Co. Ltd. and ROY Sanitaryware & Bathroom Products jointly formed Foshan ROY Ceramic Co. Ltd.
  • In 2008, Kohler acquired Zhuhai Jiade Kitchen and Bathroom Products and Caml Shower Panels.
  • In May 2009, Chongqing Light & Textile Group acquired Swell Sanitaryware.
  • On 14 February 2011, German sanitaryware and bathroom producer Grohe announced that it plans to invest Û324m. in Chinese company JOYOU becoming their second largest shareholder.
  • Shengluda Group will build 10 sanitaryware tunnel kilns in the next three years