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General

  • Porcelain is a ceramic material made by heating refined minerals, often including clay in the form of kaolinite, to high temperatures in a kiln at temperatures between 1,200 °C (2,192 °F) and 1,400 °C (2,552 °F). The toughness, strength, and translucence of porcelain arise mainly from the formation at these high temperatures of glass and the mineral mullite within the fired body.

  • Porcelain was named after its resemblance to the white, shiny cowry, called in old Italian porcella, because the curved shape of its upper surface resembles the curve of a pig's back. Properties associated with porcelain include low permeability and elasticity; high strength, hardness, glassiness, durability, whiteness, translucence, resonance, brittleness; high resistance to chemical attack and thermal shock.

  • Western porcelain is generally divided into the three main categories of hard-paste, soft-paste and bone china, depending on the composition of the paste.

Process

  • The primary components of porcelain are clays, feldspar or flint, and silica, all characterized by small particle size. To create different types of porcelain, craftspeople combine these raw materials in varying proportions until they obtain the desired green (unfired) and fired properties.

  • After the raw materials are selected and the desired amounts weighed, they go through a series of preparation steps. First, they are crushed and purified. Next, they are mixed together before being subjected to one of four forming processes—soft plastic forming, stiff plastic forming, pressing, or casting; the choice depends upon the type of ware being produced.

  • After the porcelain has been formed, it is subjected to a final purification process, bisque-firing, before being glazed. Glaze is a layer of decorative glass applied to and fired onto a ceramic body. The final manufacturing phase is firing, a heating step that takes place in a type of oven called a kiln.

Uses

  • Porcelain is used to make table, kitchen, sanitary and decorative wares, objects of fine art and tiles. Its high resistance to the passage of electricity makes porcelain an excellent insulating material and it is widely used for high-voltage insulators. It is also used in dentistry to make false teeth, caps and crowns.

Market

  • High-quality porcelain art and dinnerware will continue to enhance the culture. Improvements in manufacturing will continue to increase both productivity and energy efficiency. For instance, a German kiln manufacturer has developed a prefabricated tunnel kiln for fast firing high-quality porcelain in less than 5 hours. Firing is achieved by partly reducing atmosphere at a maximum firing temperature of 2,555 degrees Fahrenheit (1,400 degrees Celsius). The kiln uses high-velocity burners and an automatic control system, producing 23,000 pounds (11,500 kilograms) of porcelain in 24 hours.

  • Over the past years, domestic production of Porcelain in Russia has declined drastically. The decay in the porcelain industry is wrapped up with a tradition of producers having placed the pieces with international awards in museum cases, instead of using them for mass production. The result is that the Russian porcelain industry is trying hard to compete with overseas suppliers in terms of quantity, with hand-painted tea sets, for example, sold for as little as US$15 each.

  • The lower-end market has already been taken over by cheap imports from Ukraine (a traditional source of porcelain clay since the 1740s) and more recently, China. The harsh fact is that consumers prefer cheap chinaware to the traditional hand-painted, modestly-priced but still delicately transparent porcelain on offer from local factories.

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