In the age of smart phones, we probably spend more time sitting on toilets than ever before. And technology has changed the toilet-making process, too. Recently we visited a massive factory in Hungary where humans and robots make toilets hand in hand.
The 267 year-old European ceramics manufacturer Villeroy & Boch acquired Alföldi Porcelángyár, the largest ceramic factory in Hungary in 1992, just a few years after the collapse of the political and economical system. The socialist company was established in 1965 in Hódmezővásárhely, and became the largest manufacturer of sanitary wares in the region. The plant successfully survived not only the regime change in 1990, but the latest global economic crisis starting in 2007.
A few days ago the factory celebrated its 50th anniversary and on this rare occasion the management let a handful of journalists inside the walls of the factory, which is the largest Villeroy & Boch plant in Europe.
There are five main steps in the manufacturing of a toilet (or a bidet, or a washbasin and so on), which you can see in the photos below. First, they have to prepare the raw materials of the body and the glaze. Then comes the high pressure casting, a process that gives the liquid ceramic material its final solid form. After drying (step three) industrial robots cover the semi-finished products in glaze (step four). Finally the sanitary wares go through slowly a firing tunnel, spending 20 hours in the long-long oven where at one point the highest temperature reaches 1200 degrees celsius.
I found it also amazing that creating one toilet, from kaolin powder to shiny and sexy (ask Helmut Newton!) porcelain, takes five days of work. But the factory is so big that 4000 products are produced — that is almost one and a half million products per year, manufactured by only 750-800 workers.
The raw material warehouse
This diesel locomotive used to haul tons of kaolin
The raw material proportioning system
Kaolin (also known as china clay) is one of the main materials of ceramics manufacturing
The 50-year-old reinforced concrete ceiling looks cool
Drum mills for grinding raw materials
Dissolver tanks, designed for the blunging of raw materials
White is the colour
High pressure casting with single or multi-mould machines
Human touch — cleaning the cast before drying
Preparing cast ceramic pieces for drying and glazing
This is physical work
Robotic arms do the precision work of glazing