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Ceramic clusters of the world

One of the interesting aspects of ceramics industry globally is that the industry has prospered through clustered approach. There are many reasons for the development of ceramic clusters – availability of raw material, nearby consumption markets or ports, availability of labour, availability of technological knowhow, logistics support and entrepreneurial talent. Many such clusters came and some disappeared over a period of time. We have listed out 3 such clusters:

Foshan Cluster, China

From nowhere, China jumped to the top position as the world’s largest manufacturer of ceramic tiles and this happened in less than two decades. Just look at these facts – in 1990, China’s production of tiles was less than 1/10th of Italy’s production and in 2010, China produced more than 10 times of Italy’s tiles production. For this to happen, Foshan Cluster has contributed substantially.

Foshan has a long history of ceramic fabrication, and is crowned the name of “Capital of Ceramic of China” which is the third-largest city in Guangdong. The ceramic reltions mainly centralized in Chancheng District where combine two towns of Nanzhuang and Shiwan since 2003. The trademark “Foshan ceramic” authorized by China’s government in 2013. The population advantage, capabilities of technological absorb and nearby city development caused Foshan to become the major leading ceramic tile production districts in China as well as in the world market. Foshan had the advantage of low cost by mass production, low cost of labor, and rich raw materials with local made machinery. Foshan accounts for 30% of domestic tile production and 70% of China’s tiles exports.

Sassuolo Ceramic district, Italy

Italy ruled the ceramic world for nearly a half century  till 1990 and Sassuolo was the main contributor to this feat. The industrial district of Sassuolo is situated in the hilly area between the provinces of Modena and Reggio in Emilia and it is from here that the 80 percent of Italian tiles are manufactured and almost three-quarters of production is exported to world markets. Easy access to raw materials (different kinds of clays) in the mountains in that area;  an abundant labor force unemployed in that area during the 1950s; housing legislation changes of the early 1960s; and tax reliefs lasting till the middle of the 1970s are the major reasons for Sassuolo becoming ceramic capital of Europe. The strong territorial density of firms and the high mobility of technicians, specialized workers and salesmen have created a ceramics “culture” which led to acceleration in the process of imitation. The development of small-medium mechanical industries has benefited at the beginning from the consistent stream of skilled workers available, the greater part of which were trained right from the very beginnings inside the large firms.

Morbi, Gujarat, India

The Morbi cluster, which accounts for more than 70% of India’s total production, is spread across a 10km stretch on the Morbi-Dhuva highway in Gujarat. Today, Morbi is the second largest ceramics cluster in the world, next only to Foshan in China.

Morbi is ideally located due to its proximity to highways, seaports and airports and more importantly, there is availability, in abundance, of raw material (local clay suitable for ceramic products) and of quartz, calcite/woolastonite, frits and glazes in Gujarat and in the neighbouring Rajasthan. Labour is also easily available.

Above all, the entrepreneurship of Patel community also played major role in Morbi becoming the ceramics hub of India. The Patel community which owns the tiles manufacturing factories is a tightly knit network. Most of them are co-owners in multiple factories. So, utilization and sharing of resources (logistics, labour, production knowledge and vendors) is highly efficient and cost-effective.

Morbi’s history as a ceramics cluster is less than four decades old. However, even before becoming the ceramics hub, Morbi was closely associated with building products manufacturing. Traditionally, Morbi was famous for roof tiles called ‘Naliya’.  However, in the mid-80s, local entrepreneurs started importing machines that were being discarded by the clusters in Italy and Spain. There was a 55% duty on import of capital goods; however, SMEs were exempt up to the limit of Rs 1 crore, which was later increased to Rs 2 crore. These entrepreneurs installed the ceramic tile machines and started producing tiles. However, switch over to vitrified tiles is a recent phenomenon.

In Morbi cluster, overall technical understanding on ceramic manufacturing is good and rapidly increasing. Important equipment like kiln, polishing machine etc are bought from Italy (Sacmi) and China (Modena), which are leading suppliers of these equipment world over. Many of the unit owners are frequently visiting international ceramic fairs and ceramic process equipment suppliers, thus keeping them informed. Further, Morbi has offices and representatives from globally renowned Italian & Spanish tiles machinery manufacturers and design studios which provide technical assistance and training to tiles manufacturing companies.

Apart from catering to domestic market, Morbi manufacturers also export ceramics in a big way. Exports from Morbi is estimated to be around Rs 10,000 crore. There are now 800 manufacturers in the cluster and the number is expected to grow, and that too rapidly, in the coming years.

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