Ceramics company breaks the mould


Bloomfield vase produced to celebrate Belleek's 140th anniversary

Belleek, Ireland’s oldest pottery is moving into the technological age. For more than 140 years, Belleek has been famous for its hand-produced parian china but now things are changing.

 Three years ago, the company’s design team made the decision to take advantage of computer technology to speed up the design process. The team currently consists of three designers, Fergus Cleary, Head of Design, Principle Designer, Marie McGrellis and Trainee Designer, Arlene Rafferty. Between them, they introduce between 50 and 60 new products to Belleek’s range each year.

Prior to using CAD, the designers first produced line drawings of each new design. From these, prototype models were produced in plaster, which took between three and four months. The designers were keen to cut out this initial stage by using Delcam software to produce computer models for presentations to the sales teams, in place of the physical prototypes. Any changes requested can be rapidly completed with the software. Eliminating the time needed to generate physical models significantly reduces new product lead times.

"The sales team used to find it difficult to visualise designs in three dimensions from drawings alone," commented Marie McGrellis. "The ability to show them exactly what a piece will look like on the computer screen at an early stage make life much easier for them. It is also easier for us as it cuts out the need to produce plaster models at the initial stage."

The design team are also responsible for ensure that every product can be manufactured successfully. By examining the computer model, they are able to establish whether there are any unsupported elements in the design that could collapse when fired in the kiln.

The introduction of the Delcam software represents Belleek’s first move to CADCAM. Although there has been a learning curve to overcome, there are obvious long-term benefits to be gained. These include more rapid introduction of new designs, easy development of scaled families of products, and the ability to keep a library of designs for future use.