Robust institutional research needed for improving quality of ceramics
What is the current scenario of the ceramics industry in Bangladesh?
The local ceramics industry mainly falls into four categories: tableware, sanitaryware, tiles, and clay brick and roof tiles. Clay brick and roof tiles are manufactured through automatic brick machines which emit less carbon dioxide than the traditional brick kilns. The ignitions from traditional brick kilns result in high carbon emission, whereas machine-based production makes auto bricks completely eco-friendly. The demand for clay and tiles is now increasing with the initiation of paver works.
The sanitaryware industry is also a rapidly growing sector in Bangladesh. We used to import sanitaryware from China, India and Thailand. But imports have gradually decreased with the rise of local sanitaryware companies. While any sanitary product from a Thai ceramic company exceeds BDT 35,000, local enterprises offer a similar product of the same quality within just BDT 10,000. This huge price gap helps local companies take over the local market.
Bangladesh has immense potential for tiles production. The living standards of people and the development of new construction sites have increased the demand for tiles to such an extent that local companies sometimes face difficulties to meet the demand from dealers. This boost in demand pushes the companies to introduce new varieties of products in the market. Tiles companies have already come up with the idea of replaceable single unit tiles which can cover a whole surface. Apart from local enterprises, Chinese companies have taken a chunk of the market with their exclusive shiny products. Since demand for exclusive tiles is not as much as for regular tiles, we still have to import products from this category.
Many small local ceramic ventures are exploring the possibility of manufacturing diversified ceramic products such as insulators, electronic parts, textile tools, etc. There are some small-scale enterprises involved with the art of lithography, engraving different attractive designs on white tiles.
Of the four above-mentioned categories, the tableware industry in Bangladesh has been facing a serious threat. All the materials used for tableware ceramics are imported and highly expensive. Our inability to keep pace with the price in the global market has decreased the export of tableware goods to a great extent. Though this year has seen a small increase in export of tableware products, past experiences are not as pleasant. The falling demand for tableware ceramics in the local and international market is due to the availability of glass products, melamine and one-time ware within an affordable range. Locally extracted raw materials are not suitable for crockery and as a result the costs for raw materials' processing are going up. Compared to other ceramic companies, the tableware industry requires a large pool of manpower. Furthermore, due to low sale value and profit margins, graduates from different institutes do not opt to join tableware companies.
How can our local ceramics industry take advantage of global innovations in the industry?
We have not produced any exclusive items yet as they surpass our production cost. Moreover, exclusive tiles require the installation of updated technology. We do not manufacture such kinds of exclusive products not because we are unable to invest in updated technology but because the usage of exclusive tiles is still very limited.
How can we improve the quality of the ceramics?
Institutional research is one of the crucial elements for improving the quality of ceramics. Bangladesh Institute of Glass and Ceramics (BIGC), Bangladesh Ceramic Manufacturers & Exporters Association (BCMEA) and BRAC have conducted some research studies on ceramics production, focusing on the human resources aspect of the industry. Bangladesh Institute of Glass and Ceramics (BIGC) also conducts research on course development and facilitates skill-oriented education.
But we need to shift our research focus to productivity and quality improvement to have a better outcome for production. Instead of researching on product development, our academic institutions limit their concerns to material behaviours. Besides, our graduates, who are working in different ceramic companies, have very limited research experience. They get to conduct research in laboratory only when they are directed to replicate the samples provided by their clients. It is quite disappointing that we do not have room for innovation in our research facilities.
What is the current state of the job market in the local ceramics industry?
There are more job openings than there are job seekers in the ceramics industry. Graduates from BIGC do not remain unemployed after their successful completion of courses. While the job market is extremely healthy, the range of salaries is not that satisfactory. A labourer in the industry earns on average BDT 500 per day and total earnings stand at BDT 15,000 at the end of the month. On the other hand, the monthly income of a fresh graduate is as low as BDT 8,000 on average despite having an institutional specialisation. However, we try to inform our students about the job environment of different industries through our academic counselling programme. Our guidance helps them set their targets and pursue their career goals.