A Factory Tour: Inside Ideal StandardOctober 18, 2018
Although the factory floor hosts several large robots and machines of the 21st century, the production of WCs and basins at Ideal Standard still follows traditional pressure casting methods. The company has called the site at Armitage, in Staffordshire, home since 1817, only last year celebrating their two-hundredth anniversary. Since then, the factory has been bringing classic white ceramic sanitaryware to our homes, schools, and offices. With the final quality inspection carried out by the Ideal Standard inspectors, these items appear in bathrooms all over Europe.
An Ideal Standard WC made from vitreous china starts in a pressure caster. In 30-minute cycles this machine produces up to eight non-porous pieces of sanitaryware. Pieces made from vitreous china will shrink by 12% even without a glaze. The Armitage site also produces Fine Fireclay pieces; however, they only shrink by 4-5%. This stage benefits from a touch of modern technology, as traditional casting would produce only 12 pieces per person, per day. Also, there is less wastage in this instance when a machine is used, with only 15-20% being scrapped. This compares with 40% following the traditional method. Anything scrapped at this stage can be reused and remoulded.
Next, the newly moulded wet pieces will join the conveyor belt that trails around the factory to start drying. They must lose all of their moisture before the next stage. At 90 degrees, the pieces will slowly move through the drier. For basins this stage takes 8-9 hours, and for WCs a full 13 hours are needed to completely dry out.
Certain ranges with stick on rims are made on the revolutionary AVI machine. This stands for: Alta Pressione (High pressure) Vasi (WCs) Indipendenti (Independent)
This machine takes centre stage on the factory floor, with a casting time of 30-35 minutes. This casting centre is fully automated and revolutionises the concept of the casting machine. Each toilet made on this machine is completed accurately and automatically.
Once dry, these pieces have shrunk by 3-4%. Here, the process is put back into the hands of human experts for clay inspection. Each piece is taken to a booth to be scanned. This is to check for any cracks, for the sanding down of any sharp edges and unwanted bits or dust. This check over is essential, as any sharp edges on the feet cannot be smoothed out when in the casting stage. Once they have passed the first inspection, the WCs will be moved on to be sprayed.
Robots retake the wheel here and get the classic white coats of glaze on. Across four lines stand four robots to spray a variety of pieces, all in white. Each piece will receive 3-4 coats of glaze to ensure an opaque gloss is achieved across all basins and WCs. When properly sprayed, they re-join a conveyor belt and take on a matt appearance, looking much more recognisable.
Every great piece of work should be signed, or in this case stamped with the right logo. Before being exported across Europe to different parts of the business, the sanitaryware needs to be branded, as this alters the final product code. To ensure clean crisp branding, glue is spread where the logo will sit. Then the logo is placed and smoothed to remove any air bubbles. When in the kiln, the badge will be burned away, leaving the logo.
Then, pieces are picked up by the placer and run through a tray of water on a moving belt. This is to remove any excess glaze that may be lingering. If this is not done the excess glaze, once in the hot kiln, will cause the toilet or basin to stick to the kiln car. This is a key check over as each car carries approximately 28 pieces, and up to 52 cars go in the kiln at a time. Skipping this stage would result in 1,400 – 1,500 pieces over 8 hours becoming stuck!
Once finally in the kiln, there is 18 hours of firing ahead. The kiln is approximately 84 meters long, holding hundreds of Ideal Standard toilets and basins at one time. Reaching a temperature of 1,300 degrees, the kiln would take 3 – 4 days to completely cool down if it was turned off. However, with so any items to churn out each day it rarely takes a break.
18 hours later, and the pieces now resemble the glossy toilets and basins we all recognise. For the final inspection, each piece is scanned. This is to check for any sharp edged or cracks which may have developed whilst in the heat of the kiln. Inspections are also carried out to ensure the tap-hole sizes are correct, the piece hasn’t suffered any distortion, and there aren’t any issues with the glaze.
Every inspector is highly trained to recognise what constitutes as a pass or a fail. If pieces do fail, they can be set back on a conveyor belt to be reworked. Pieces which pass the final inspection are taken to the palletisation area to be packed, ready to be taken out of the factory and sold.