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Lance Foxcroft, CEO, Ceramic Industries

Q: What type of technological advances have you incorporated into your products?
A: We use high-definition inkjet printing to decorate our tiles. HD Inkjet utilises piezo-electric inkjets that enable 400 dpi images to be transferred to tiles in an amazing range of colours. We are also able to apply micro-grit granules (‘granito’) to selective areas on tiles to improve wear resistance, produce textures and reduce slip properties.

Technological advances in additives have reduced our consumption of energy and glazes. Computer modelling and technological innovation have also allowed us to reduce the flushing volumes of our sanitaryware. All our toilets can flush with as little as 3 litres water (six for a full flush) and our eco-friendly models can flush with as little as 2.5 litres (4.5 litres for a full flush).

Q: How has the growing influence of sustainability among consumers shaped current design trends?
A: Natural stones and woods have become extremely popular in recent times. Consumers have also been installing tiles in all sorts of areas, such as outdoors, and for building cladding and facades, ensuring the longevity of these surfaces and the sustainability of structures. As consumers become more water-conscious, reducing water consumption is a major driver in the popularity of our Betta Ecology dual-flush toilet system. Toilets can use up to 30% of total water used in a household. While a traditional system uses up to 9 litres of water in a single flush, the Betta dual-flush technology uses 4.5 litres for a full flush and 3 litres for a reduced flush. At 12 flushes a day, the standard dual-flush toilet can save a family of four enough water to fill a swimming pool every year. Our Betta baths also save energy due to their heat-insulation properties – reducing the need to heat up more water.

Q: In what ways are ceramics less of a drain on SA’s natural resources?
A: Ceramic products are extremely hard, and wear resistant. While our tiles and sanitaryware come with at least a 10-year warranty, these products remain functional for many decades. They need almost no maintenance and are cleaned without aggressive solvents or cleaning materials. In addition, using the latest technology, Ceramic Industries can manufacture tiles that look and feel like natural wood, marble and stone. They look like the real thing but last much longer.

Q: Ceramic manufacturing processes are energy intensive. What type of equipment have you invested in to help reduce this?
A: As our primary goal is to reduce energy consumption at our factories by up to 30%, we installed EKO kilns at our Gryphon factory. These kilns recycle the energy they use, to preheat combustion air. By constantly investing in cutting-edge technology, we have been able to update our burners to reduce consumption. Innovations in heat-recovery allow us to recycle the heat from the kiln to be used in spray dryers.

At our factories and warehouses, we have also replaced diesel forklifts with automated guided vehicles and laser-guided vehicles, which are electrically powered and energy efficient. An investment in a 1 MW solar power system at our Betta factory in Krugersdorp has reduced its reliance on energy from non-renewable sources.

Q: How have you reduced the amount of water used during production?
A: One of the biggest changes was replacing our evaporative cooling towers with closed-circuit radiators, which save water while cooling the hydraulic presses and pumps. In addition, we recover wastewater via water-treatment plants and reuse it during manufacturing. Thus, no water is wasted. Filter presses for waste sludge ensure no effluent is released into the environment.

Installing HD inkjet printers at all our facilities has reduced the need for extensive washing of the traditional rotary printing machinery. At our Pegasus factory, we’ve reduced overall water consumption by 200 000 litres per day, and the Betta factory has cut water consumption by 28%. Finally, we harvest rainwater at our new factory.

Q: How does the company recycle airborne dust created during ceramic production?
A: Extractors remove airborne dust to filter baghouses and wet scrubbers, from where it is incorporated back into the production of our tiles and sanitaryware.

Q: Does the company reuse any other waste material from production?
A: We reuse the minerals in glazes, after separating them from waste process water. Unfired or ‘green scrap’ is recycled into the body preparation to create new tile or bathroom products and we also process fired vitreous china scrap into a powdered form, which is reused as raw material for ceramic bathroomware. Wooden pallets used to transport and store our products are recycled. We collect and recycle scrap steel as well, and sort waste-packaging into cardboard and plastic, which is then removed from site to be recycled.

Q: Once extraction ends, what are your rehabilitation plans for your quarries?
A: We treat the extraction process with great care, undertaking concurrent rehabilitation to ensure the exposed area is as small as possible at any time. We consistently rehabilitate all our quarries to restore the original fauna and flora to the site wherever possible. We plan to transform the quarries into wetlands or park areas once they reach end-of-mine life.

By Ilze-Mari Gründling
Illustration:Janine Petzer

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