Research and Development.
Keramicalia’s primary activity is research and development. My passion is solving problems. Manufacturing is a sideline to finance our R&D. I don’t like running the business and would like to spend all my time solving problems and developing new materials.
After 40 years of R&D I have compiled a vast range of formulations over more than 1000 projects. Consequently devising a new material is very quick. The R&D has already been done and meticulously filed and recorded, with tens of thousands of samples. Every new project is already nearly completed. It draws on technology developed over previous projects. A new material may be based on up to four previous projects. I pull out the files and sometimes the samples, analyze them and write out my best guess of the ideal formulation for the new material. Sometimes the first formulation I write down and test is exactly right. Studying the precursors takes about 4 to 8 hours. However, the development of the precursors took months and all of them relied on prior developments which also too months. So the new material developed in a day, actually took several years.
People not involved in R&D go to universities, CSIR, Mintek, etc. and pay a lot of money for young graduates to spend years developing technology. The client pays for the salaries and equipment used. The idea of getting the same result in one day but paying hundreds of thousands of Rands for it is something they cannot accept. Paying tens of thousand of Rand per month over several years is something they can understand and accept.
My attempt at solving this problem is “Value based R&D.” Suppose the client wants to manufacture pizza ovens. There are already many on the market and prices are similar. The client therefore needs a competitive advantage. I list the important aspects and put values to them.
- Fuel consumption: If I halve it the client pays me R20 000. Equal the competition, no charge. Double the fuel consumption I pay the client a penalty of R20 000.
- Weight: If it is easy to pick up and carry home, it sells easily. If I make it 30% lighter I charge R10 000, 50% lighter I charge R20 000. If it is heavier I pay a penalty of R5 000 per 10% heavier.
- If it is the best looking oven I get another R10 000 and if it is uglier than average I forfeit R20 000.
- If production takes 1 man day I earn R20 000, if it takes twice as long as the competition’s I forfeit R30 000.
- Time to develop it: 6 months break even, I get R5 000 per month early and pay R5 000 per month late.
Lastly but most importantly is the material cost. If I halve it I get R70 000, double it I pay a penalty of R100 000.
The client then evaluates my proposal according to his perceived priorities and makes a counter proposal. The aspects of performance are carefully defined to be measurable.
If I make a mess of it the client walks away with a lot of money to compensate for my wasting his time. If I do a brilliant job I get a lot of money and the client gets a product which he can churn out and fast, it sells like hot cakes and his profit margins are large.
Unfortunately, most clients can’t get their heads around this concept and usually walk away from it.
Sometimes the project is so novel that it is impossible to tell if it is achievable. In this case we do a phased R&D proposal.
- Develop a material to meet the required service temperature and required thermal insulation. A price is set for this goal and paid once the material is proven.
- Find a method of manufacturing the difficult shape required.
- Next phase is to make sure it can survive the chemical environment for a defined length of time. Etc. etc. My favorite furnace manufacturer is amenable to this format and it is a pleasure doing business with them.
- PRODUCT FEATURE
Antoinette asked me to make puppet heads and gave me a model. It’s just the sort of thing I love getting involved in. I struck some complex problems. I commenced with documenting the process with photos, but the process was changing as I progressed. Eventually I had the production molds and thought it would be plain sailing from hereon. However, I could not develop a material light enough! I was discussing polyurethane with Mike Fellows-Smith and started making a high pressure mold.
I was using Plasticast and Plastiperl for their resilience, but couldn’t get a light enough mix. I noticed that I could get a viscous fluid which set very fast and ended up very hard and tough. I tried pouring the fluid into my Multimould rubber molds and turning them to coat the inside of the mould. To my surprise, it worked beautifully! The head needs a dowel sticking out of the neck. I put the dowel through a rubber mat and after the mould is coated I put it down on the mat and the last bit of mix flows down onto the rubber mat and onto the stick. The head needs 3 other string attachment points. These gave some problems, and we ended up fitting wire loops into the mould before filling the rotation moulding mix. I called the material “Puppet Head” temporarily while thinking about an appropriate name for a rotational moulding compound. It was Barbara Harper who discovered the material and fell on it with glee, because it was absolutely perfect for her mosaic tortoises which she makes. I banged two reject puppet heads together to test their strength and it was rather impressive. It struck me that “Tortoiseshell” would be an apt description of its properties so the name stuck. We could make 20 puppet heads per day with our 3 moulds.
Molders usually want something lightweight, cheap, strong with good detail and fast production.
Lightweight and strong work against each other. So does lightweight and good detail.
We have developed a complete solution for you. It is called Tortoiseshell, because it has similar properties of resilience and is non brittle.
Tortoiseshell coatings are completely hollow with a thin film of high quality hard but tough material. This is achieved by the process of rotational molding. You make a mold of Multimould Green. Pour the 60:40 powder to resin into the mold and rotate the mold so that every surface is covered. You must mix very quickly and pour within 20 seconds. The mix sets very fast. You can strip after 2 hours.
Casting puppet heads we achieved an apparent density of O,31 G/cmᶟ.
Development No: 1682