Home Case Studies Blending breakthrough — optimizing ceramics clay Blending breakthrough — optimizing ceramics clay
Accelerating development with prescriptive analytics
Conveyor moving material for clay processing

Whether used for traditional materials such as tile, pottery, abrasives, piping and sanitary ware or for new applications in electronics, 3D printing and dental products, ceramics production is growing rapidly.

Projected to be a USD 400 billion global industry by 2025, ceramics manufacturing uses clay as a raw material — a fine-grained natural soil which must be mined and blended to meet precise production standards.

ESAN Eczacıbaşı Industrial Raw Materials Company (ESAN) is one of Turkey’s largest producers of clay for ceramics manufacturing. The company also exports ceramics-quality clay to other countries. Because of changing manufacturing specifications, fluctuating market conditions, variations in the physical composition of mined clay, energy costs and other variables, ESAN planners must constantly develop new recipes for blending clay to deliver a feedstock that meets quality and cost goals.

For years, the development of clay-blending recipes required significant amounts of time and staff resources. “The 20 different types of clay materials excavated from the pits each have their own physical properties which must, in turn, be compared against 15 production parameters,” says Alper Şener, Data Analytics Head of IBM Business Partner Selco Consulting. “ESAN planners used spreadsheets to develop different mixing percentages and options. However, it could take a week for the planners to come up with four or five good blending options.”


Data-driven decision-making

Decision optimization models reduce clay-blending process from days to seconds through prescriptive analytics and data science

Reduced Cost

Reduces cost of raw materials for ceramics processed in plant by 14% through optimized blending of clay

The previous process took a week to come up with 4 - 5 good options. With IBM ILOG CPLEX, we developed an optimization model for ESAN which runs in just 60 seconds or less to create the optimum clay-blending recipe with 50 - 150 alternative recipe suggestions for different efficiency and production time scenarios. We are really proud of that. Alper Şener Data Analytics Head IBM Business Partner Selco Consulting

Another issue related to planning schedules was that by the time a new clay-blending recipe was ready, market conditions had changed. Planners had to go back to their spreadsheets and recalculate. Further delays occurred when recipes were tested in a pilot production run to confirm that the recipe met real-world quality and cost targets.

Like many mining and manufacturing companies looking for a competitive advantage, ESAN added data analytics capabilities to its IT department to support the digital transformation of its business. When looking for high-impact opportunities to demonstrate how data analytics could solve important business problems, ESAN and Selco focused on ESAN’s Bozüyük clay enrichment plant.

In operation since 1979, the Bozüyük facility offered several advantages for piloting the use of data analytics in a production environment. “The products produced at Bozüyük are more complex than materials processed at some of our other plants, but processes and logistics at this location were more favorable,” says Sinan Türkmen, Industrial Engineer and Data Analytics Manager for ESAN. “Once the plant was chosen, it was time to choose the right software to help manage the transformation, and Selco already had a head start in this area.”

From proof-of-concept to production

When ESAN began evaluating prescriptive analytics software for clay-blending applications, it invited eight vendors to submit proof-of-concept proposals. “After the first iteration, the number of vendors decreased to three and Selco was one of them,” says Türkmen. “It was clear that they were experts in logistics, supply chain management, data science and math modeling.”

“Early on, we looked through their process and identified some issues with how ESAN formulated their math models,” says Şener. “ESAN soon realized that we could model their problems correctly and eliminate bottlenecks. They also saw how well our IBM ILOG CPLEX Optimization Studio software performed.”

ESAN’s IT department conducted its own research into the IBM® ILOG® CPLEX® Optimization Studio platform. “Compared to other optimization software, including the open-source software we looked at, we concluded that the IBM ILOG CPLEX solution could also solve our nonlinear problems more easily,” says Türkmen.

Prior to deployment, Selco and the IBM office in Turkey developed a software licensing plan that could prove beneficial to ESAN. “IBM worked really hard to provide the best price on the optimization software license,” says Şener. “Our client didn’t have a second thought about the price of the product and could focus on the quality of work that the product would provide.”

Soon after choosing the IBM ILOG CPLEX solution provided by Selco, ESAN conducted a preliminary test of a Selco-developed math model. “Selco gave us their first clay- blending recipe and we tried it in the laboratories,” says Türkmen. “Our research and development team told us that this blending recipe offered cost savings compared to other recipes. It also had a much shorter production lead time.”

In addition to deploying the IBM ILOG CPLEX solution for ESAN, Selco also developed a user interface that planners could use to create blending scenarios and manage data. “We set up application, database and web servers — a complete architecture with a front and back end,” says Şener. “IBM ILOG CPLEX software provides and supports us with the APIs needed to integrate the system and provide a seamless experience for our clients.”

Within a month after starting the optimization project, ESAN began to see significant improvements in terms of accelerated development of blending recipes and the number of recipe options generated. “With IBM ILOG CPLEX, we developed an optimization model for ESAN which runs in just 60 seconds or less to create the optimum clay-blending recipe with 50 - 150 alternative recipe suggestions for different efficiency and production time scenarios to maximize the production capacity of the plant,” says Şener. “We are really proud of that.”

During proof-of-concept, we compared the IBM ILOG CPLEX software to seven other products, including open-source software. The IBM solution solved our optimization problems much more easily, especially when it came to nonlinear problems. Sinan Türkmen Industrial Engineer and Data Analytics Manager ESAN Eczacıbaşı Industrial Raw Materials Company
Success that can be shared

In addition to reducing the clay-blending process cycle from days to seconds, the IBM ILOG CPLEX solution deployed by Selco at the ESAN Bozüyük plant has yielded significant business improvements including:

• A 14% reduction in the cost of raw materials processed by the plant through predictive analytics and optimization
• A 10% reduction in the cost of energy by optimizing processes that use less energy

“There are also some unquantifiable performance improvements that have come from using this optimization software,” says Türkmen. “For example, the system proves that we can actually produce materials that the R&D team once said were not possible, because the old recipes didn’t incorporate these physical or chemical properties. In the future, we can derive revenue from these new products.”

A long-term goal of piloting IBM ILOG CPLEX software at the Bozüyük plant is to roll out the solution to the nine other plants that ESAN operates in Turkey. “Because of the success we have seen with clay enrichment,” says Türkmen, “we plan to start using this optimization tool at our other facilities which have more production capacity.”

ESAN also plans to share what it learned at the Bozüyük plant with its parent organization, the Eczacıbaşı Holding group. “ESAN wants to start three projects this year with predictive and prescriptive analytics, and we think data analytics is something that can help the holding company,” says Türkmen. “The company now sees analytics as a decision support tool and is much more encouraged to take actions about it.”

“When we talk to our clients about how to invest in analytics, we tell them they should go with a strong company with a broad range of products,” says Şener. “The strategy of IBM, where they connect their different analytical components to IBM Cloud Pak for Data and Watson, supports the strategy we recommend for our clients. IBM ILOG CPLEX is also a scalable product where you can use different components when necessary and increase capabilities when you have more solutions.”

“As a data analytics manager, I was the only person in this role with the company,” says Türkmen. “Now we are enlarging this department and founding a Center of Excellence with data scientists. IBM and its ILOG CPLEX solution will be a tool for us in our projects and I am happy about that.”

esan logo
About ESAN Eczacıbaşı Industrial Raw Materials Company

Founded in 1978 and based in Istanbul, ESAN (link resides outside of ibm.com) mines and processes clay and other raw materials for ceramics manufacturing. With 10 facilities in Turkey and over 2,500 employees, ESAN is one of the Turkish mining industry’s leading exporters. ESAN is a subsidiary of Eczacıbaşı Holding, one of Turkey’s largest industrial groups with a combined net turnover of TRY 11.1 billion in 2020.

About Selco Consulting

Based in Istanbul, Turkey, IBM Business Partner Selco Consulting (link resides outside of ibm.com) is a consulting company with extensive capabilities in supply chain and logistics management. By combining information technology and advanced analytics, Selco provides multidisciplinary expertise for supply chain consulting, business analytics, software consulting, material handling logistics and warehouse logistics.

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