An elderly former employee waxed lyrical the other day about the
glory days of the Ceylon Ceramics Corporation. He had been employed at
the Piliyandala ceramics factory and could remember it in its heyday.
The corporation was first established as ‘Ceylon Porcelain’ in 1955,
becoming a corporation in 1958. Its kaolin refinery at Boralesgamuwa was
commissioned in 1963 and the ceramic factory at Piliyandala in 1966. It
developed fastest in the 1970-77 period, establishing a number of new
units and branching into different product lines.
He recalled that when the Oberoi hotel (now the Hotel Cinnamon Grand)
was built in the 1970s, it was the Ceramics Corporation which had
supplied its toilets. A new line of toilet ceramics, known as ‘Oberoi’,
was developed by the corporation specifically for the hotel.
The corporation also manufactured tableware and mosaic tiles as well
as a range of other products including filter candles, plaster of Paris
and washing blue. Its subsidiary, Lanka Porcelain at Rattota, made
porcelain electrical insulators as well as porcelain crockery –
industrial ceramics are more important than the domestic variety.
It cut down on imported raw materials, achieving 90 percent local
content. It made glaze, stains and motifs for decorated ware were made
locally and its own requirements of Felspar were provided by its mines
at Rattota. It also used rejected ceramic ware as a raw material for
The Corporation exported many of its products. Since ceramics are
fragile, they need considerable care in packing. Therefore it had set up
a small paper mill at Boralesgamuwa to manufacture paper and cardboard
Alas, none of this existed anymore – even the privatised Kollupitiya
showroom was would be closing down soon, he said - and he blamed the
former United National Party Government of Ranil Wickremasinghe for this
state of affairs.
In his opinion, it was thanks to President Mahinda Rajapaksa that at
least the Noritake Porcelain factory at Rattota (which opened in 1973 as
a joint venture with the Japanese) and the Wall tile factory (started in
1975, again as a joint venture with the Japanese) remain in existence.
The ceramic industry is one which seems tailor-made for Sri Lanka.
English Wedgewood, Astbury and Spode porcelainware was traditionally
made from the excellent ball clay occurring in Devon and Dorset in
England. Sri Lanka does not have true ball clay, but it does have
deposits which approach ball clay in composition. These occur in the
Kalutara district and in the Mahiyangana area. There may also be
extensive deposits in the Nilawala river flood plain.
This island not only possesses large deposits of clay, it is also
associated traditionally with the growing and manufacturing of tea. The
clink of china has always been an adjunct to tea drinking, whether the
Chadogu porcelain used in the traditional Japanese Chanoyu tea ceremony
or the Wedgewood china used in the equally ritualistic English Tea.
Ceramic tableware – especially porcelain - complements, very
logically, the excellent teas which are grown here. Many of Sri Lanka’s
speciality Tea exporters also sell a raft of china tea-ware. There are
several manufacturers of china, in addition to the Japanese joint
ventures, but there is great scope for expansion.
The field of industrial ceramics is also one which is expanding. In
addition to the traditional place of porcelain in electric insulation,
there are many rapidly growing new areas. For example, ceramic cylinder
liners and pistons for internal combustion engines promise much better
efficiency, insulation and energy delivery.
Although the huge export market for ceramic goods has contracted due
to the World economic crisis, the growing local demand is compensating
for this, especially for sanitary ware and tiles. The reconstruction of
the war-damaged areas of the North and East provides a rapidly expanding
market for wall and floor tiles.
Manufacturers have recently been complaining about shortages of raw
material, which they say affects their productivity. Among these are
Lanka Walltiles and Royal Ceramics. The Managing Director of Royal
Ceramics, Nihal Perera said in his company’s last annual report that it
was bedevilled by shortages of ball clay and feldspar.
According to Perera, the local suppliers of raw materials are facing
capacity shortfalls. The alternative was to import from India or China,
which would be expensive. He suggested that the problem might be solved
by the issue of new permits for mining. However, this is fraught with
potential environmental hazards.
Much clay mining takes place on river banks, causing additional
Regulations regarding the use of paddy lands for other purposes have
stymied the development of clay mines. The miner is required to mine
only a portion of the paddy land, filling up as they go along. Because
of severe soil erosion because of the mining, the authorities began
calling for samples of the soil used for backfilling. This causes delay
in mining, which affects production.
High energy costs are another factor hurting the efficiency of local
ceramic manufacturing companies. This problem may be solved once the
expected production of natural gas from the Mannar basin comes online.
In the interim, there appears to be very little the government can do.
The government needs to establish an action plan for the ceramic
industry. Apart from the existing production lines it needs to identify
new areas of expansion – particularly in industrial ceramics. It also
needs to look seriously into the matter of raw material shortage, into
alternative raw materials and into new technology requiring less energy
For its part, the ceramic manufacturers should appreciate the fact
that the government is trammelled by the requirements of preserving the
environment and developing agriculture. It should co-operate with the
government and should also seek to find new solutions to the problems of