Interview with Michele Dondi
CNR-ISTEC Faenza and Vice-President of the Italian Ceramic Society
Q. What is your general assessment of the traditional ceramic industry in Iran?
A. I’m visiting Iran for the first time. I didn’t know about the Iranian ceramic industries before, apart they turned to be the fourth power in ceramic tile manufacturing in the world. From the ICTS conference and exhibition I had the impression of a big potential in terms of both human capital and production capacity.
Q. Can you give us an insight of the direction Iranian industries in the future?
A. All the tile-making industries, wherever they are, will have to face both short-time and long-time challanges.The Iranian industries have to decide, in the next years, whether to focus essentially on the growing domestic market or to enhance export and fight for contestable foreign markets. The domestic option is easier, but it implies to fit the technological development and products quality on national standards. Exportation is undoubtedly a harder pathway, but it forces the companies to a continuous technological upgrading, making them more competitive and open to innovation. In the long run, tile-making industries have to demonstrate their economic and environmental sustainability. In a future where, under any expectation, the access to energy and water sources will be increasingly harder and more expensive, ‘green’ technologies with a lower energy and water consumption will be a strong competitive factor.
Q. Have the new technologies been utilized properly?
A. I think that the new technologies are made available for the Iranian ceramic industries. It seems to be just a matter of financial support. Whether they are (or will be) utilized at best of their potential depends on the industry targets in terms of quality standards and manufacturing costs. If the domestic market does not demand high standards and ifthe tile-makers’ profit margin is satisfactory, there will be no need to stress the use of new technologies.
Q. Did you find any elements of creation done by Iranian industries?
A. I didn’t know any Iranian brand or product type in the field of traditional ceramics before coming to Iran. Nevertheless,during my visit I’veperceivedsome expectations to get ceramic processes and/or novel products developed in Iran. Due to the strong dependence of the Iranian ceramic industries on foreign technology providers,it seems at me a long pathway. First, it is necessary to build up the context by strengthening the R&D capacity of companies and by improving the industry-academia liaison.
Q. Iranian Ceramic Society is ready to make arrangements with overseas institutions to make a better future for national ceramic industries as well as graduated students. What kind of agreement do you suggest we could make?
A.The Iranian Ceramic Society was recently admitted, with the support of the Italian Ceramic Society, as associated member of the European Ceramic Society. This is a first important step: whether it will be just a formal relationship or will turn into a profitable chance, it depends a lot on the active role that the Iranian members will play in this context. For instance, the ECerS working group dedicated to industrial ceramics (coordinated by Italy, Spain, Turkey and Germany) can be the arm to organize special events for the traditional ceramic industry. Secondly, the Iranian Ceramic Society may agree with correspondent societies about specific activities targeted to training and/or ceramic manufacturing.
Q. Do you think your institution have anything to offer on this?
A.The Italian Ceramic Society is available to cooperate with the Iranian Ceramic Society in the organization of events (e.g., workshop on ceramic technology) and schools (e.g., training courses for industry technicians) with the involvement of third parties necessary for the success of the initiative. As a matter of fact, the Italian Ceramic Society can play essentially a management role (experts, teachers, technology consultants, etc have to be found ad hoc for any kind of event or school). From this standpoint, an active role may be played also by Italian research institutions, like CNR-ISTEC Faenza (which I’m part) University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, and Centro Ceramico Bologna:on one side providing experts and teachers and on the other side offering collaboration in R&D projects.
Q. The university-industry relation has been a long standing issue in Iran. In traditional ceramic industry, there is almost no relation on the researches. We would like to have your opinion on the issue.
A.I’m afraid it is a widespread issue with the traditional ceramic industry. I heard about the Iranian programme to foster academic reaserchers spending some time into the industry and abroad: it sounds a good start, but it should be within an overall strategy to improve industry-academia relationships. Nevertheless, there are several examples how different countries are tackling this problem. Spain has a long-term strategy based on graduated and PhD enrolled by the industry: who was formed by an institution is likely to keep a good relationship with it during his/her working life. Turkey has set up an industry-funded PhD programme and the government is financing industrial laboratories (which must employ PhD and graduates). Brazil has launched the large-scale “Science without Borders” programme by which foreign visiting researchers are paid to work on industry-oriented projects and many students can spent one year abroad. In Italy, a network is being built up around the ceramic district, involving universities, research centres and companies.