Interview: Sukhjinder Singh, MD & President, IPS Ceramics USA
We spoke to the President and MD of recurring exhibitor IPS Ceramics, Sukhjinder Singh about what sets his company apart from its competitors, the increasing opportunities for technical ceramics and where he thinks the ceramic industry is going.
Sukhjinder had a successful career at Shell where he worked in the downstream business in multiple countries. He then became a Director at Dyson plc in 2008, responsible for the Thermal Division, which was active in various industries and products. These included kiln furniture for tableware and sanitaryware, nozzles for the metal industry, neutron absorbers and ceramic blocks for the glass industry. He was also responsible for the strategic direction of other parts of the company such as Saffil, which provided fibers for the catalytic converter business. In 2009 he undertook a management buy-out of the kiln furniture business – with Ian Wright and Phil Green – and IPS Ceramics was born.
Please tell us about your current role. What are your key focus areas and responsibilities?
I’m the Managing Director of IPS Ceramics UK and President of IPS Ceramics USA. I always see my core responsibility as protecting the company’s culture. My strong belief is that the success of a company starts with having employees who feel they are part of a family. Alongside that I define, with my fellow directors, the strategic direction of the company. Our focus is to expand our products into more sectors in Europe and the USA. In 2016 we opened the USA office and recruited local people.
What inspired you to join this company?
It was first of all the people that worked within this company and, secondly, the opportunities to expand our footprint in the USA and get selling into more sectors. The combined knowledge of ceramics (products, processes, design, applications) in the company exceeds 200 years – a breadth of experience I would say is unmatched in companies of this size. I saw the opportunity, together with the team, to create a successful organization.
What do you think sets your company apart from your competitors?
First of all it is the committed attitude of the employees. We are working for the same goal and purpose: serving the customers. We support each other, are critical of each other (in a purely constructive way) and we focus on the way forward so that we can learn, improve and grow as individuals, as a team and as a company.
Also, we do not sell just a product; rather, we sell solutions. We use our knowledge of customer processes, equipment being used (such as kilns and furnaces) and deep material knowledge to find the best solution for each customer. Examples of this are reducing the weight of structures, increasing kiln loads, reducing energy consumption and helping to create highly efficient processes.
In recent years in particular, we have found that we have been asked more and more to provide technical support in developing new products and processes in high-end markets. This is not just for traditional kiln furniture products, but also increasingly for technical ceramics. This is what our customers value and what sets us apart from others in the field.
What are the key opportunities and challenges your company faces at present?
The opportunities presented to us are from customers that want to have a partner who can help them to better control and manage their production processes. Not only do we see this approach in the traditional sectors we are dealing with, but we are experiencing significant growth in the new manufacturing sectors we are serving. These are high-end sectors using technical ceramics, such as automotive, electronics and aviation – industries that see the value of having a partner who can help them with setting up an efficient production process. This starts with understanding the production process and fully appreciating what the customer is trying to achieve. After this assessment we will provide recommendations regarding the process and products.
The biggest challenge I see is finding the right people to join the global IPS Ceramics network. We want to have people who fit into our culture and who really want to work in ceramics. Many people still think of the ceramic industry in terms of a traditional, low-tech, ‘dusty’ environment. This couldn’t be further from the truth, as today’s ceramics are conceived and manufactured using a complex set of tools and are proven as crucial components and systems in high-performance industries such as automotive, space/aerospace, electronics, energy and public transportation.
Are there any new technology developments that you are working on at the moment? Can you tell us about them?
We are working with customers to help them with more variations of ceramic products. Besides the cordierite ceramics in our extremely broad high-temp portfolio, we also offer silicon carbide, alumina, zirconia, aluminum nitride, silicon nitride and glass ceramics. This gives us the possibility to better tailor our services to the processes of many more customers. One specific industry where we see a lot of interest for our products is the battery industry for cars. We are helping companies in developing the new generation of batteries, which will be crucial in powering the future. Our knowledge of processes, kilns and technical ceramics makes us the ideal partner for these manufacturers.
Additionally, in all areas of the heat treatment sector, top-quality materials as well as consistent and repeatable high-temp performance are key factors in guaranteeing success – as a consequence of which, our new silicon carbide heating elements are being very well received.
What would you say most excites you about your role?
Working with my team every day collectively to push our boundaries. Also, looking for new opportunities and going after them. We have a culture where everybody is pushing from his/her role (from the warehouse operator and our CAD designer to our sales representatives) to better support all customers and to successfully identify new and exciting opportunities.
How do you think the industry will develop within the next five years? Can you tell us about the key trends emerging?
What I see is that today’s manufacturers are looking for companies that don’t just provide products but can offer solutions. The suppliers need to provide a total solution that is continually improved so that the customer can focus on running the company. That close partnership relationship is already present in some sectors but we see that other, more industrial, sectors are catching up.
What do you hope to achieve at the show next year, and what connections do you hope to make?
We are hoping to see more potential customers from new industries visiting the expo and we’ll be looking out for those companies seeking an experienced, tightly focused partner to support them.
IPS Ceramics USA will exhibit at Ceramics Expo 2019 on Booth 300