Interview: John Dodsworth, Vice President – Materials Technology, McDanel Advanced Ceramic Technologies
John obtained his PhD researching silicon nitride-based materials and followed that with postdoctoral research on the structure of grain boundaries in certain oxide and non-oxide materials. He moved from there into an industrial research job developing super-hard ceramic-metal composite materials based on diamond and cubic boron nitride.
After spending about 10 years in research, he progressed into a variety of management roles in technical ceramics companies, including periods in manufacturing management, general management and technical management.
Please tell us about your current role. What are your key focus areas and responsibilities?
My current role, as VP of Materials Technology, is an executive role encompassing involvement in strategic planning, directing R&D activities and supporting manufacturing, sales and business development in various ways.
What inspired you to join this company?
The company has a long history dating back to 1919 and has survived by being able to adapt to the changing demands of the market and by constantly looking for new applications/opportunities. I liked the prospect of being able to get involved in a wide variety of materials, manufacturing methods and industrial applications and it has certainly worked out that way. After all these years I never get bored and still learn something new every day!
What do you think sets your company apart from your competitors?
As a small, privately owned, USA-based business it is often very difficult to compete solely on price, so we try to make up for that by working very closely with customers to understand their needs so that we can help them arrive at the most cost-effective solutions to their problems even if, occasionally, that means referring them to another supplier. When it comes to products that have essentially become commodities over the years, we simply offer the best-performing, highest-quality products on the market.
What are the key opportunities and challenges your company faces at present?
We have opportunities to advance by offering more products with added value i.e. assemblies or subassemblies incorporating ceramic components. About 25% of our sales fall into this category already and this is rising. We also anticipate having an opportunity to start expanding on what is still a very small base of international sales now that the value of the dollar is beginning to soften. Ironically, in the domestic market, perhaps the biggest challenge we face is competition from certain countries that enjoy very low labor rates. This is because, given the variety of products we make, it is difficult for us to automate manufacturing and consequently a large part of our costs is in labor.
What would you say most excites you about your role?
The variety of activities – largely as a result of being part of a small company. Getting to work with talented, enthusiastic and dedicated individuals both internally and externally.
How do you think the industry will develop within the next five years? Can you tell us about the key trends emerging?
We expect to see continued acceptance and use of ceramics in many growing markets – particularly in alternative energy (solar, wind and fuel cells), medical, automotive/aerospace and water treatment businesses and second tier companies supplying those businesses.
What do you hope to achieve at the show next year, and what connections do you hope to make?
The show is a great opportunity for us to touch base with raw material suppliers, equipment suppliers and customers, and to hook up with potential new customers among those that just come to walk the show and learn something about the industrial uses of ceramics. Being able to do this in one place over the course of a few days saves a lot of time and money in travel.
McDanel Advanced Ceramic Technologies LLC will exhibit at Ceramics Expo 2018 on Booth 522.