Pottery’s ‘Miscalculation’: Using Complicated Process

NEW WATERFORD, Ohio – Almost all of the elements to creating a modern ceramic manufacturing plant were here: a great work force, efficient machinery and the will to try something new.

American Pioneer MFG LLC, however, was missing a vital component – a ceramics engineer who could create a precision mix capable of accommodating a more automated and complex production process, said its founder and CEO, Ulrich Honighausen.

“That profession simply doesn’t exist anymore when it comes to tableware manufacturing,” he said Thursday. “That know-how is really lost today.”

Workers at the plant were informed last Friday that American Pioneer would shut down its operations, and the plant ceased production Wednesday.

“The 20 people that I ended up with at this plant were the ‘Dream Team,’” Honighausen says. “They were the ones I was looking for. They were dedicated and loyal.”

The operation was efficient, he said, and praised the “resiliency and strength” of its employees. What the operation lacked was a more scientific understanding of ceramic materials and composition – skill and knowledge that is very difficult to find in the tableware industry anywhere today.

American Pioneer was formed in 2012 as a partnership between Honighausen and Japanese ceramics manufacturer Koyo Toki. The company manufactured state-themed and logo mugs for Starbucks as part of that company’s “Create Jobs in the USA” campaign.

What he attempted was to build a plant that was a hybrid of automation and traditional ceramics manufacturing, Honighausen said. The company produced mugs for Starbucks, one of the largest retailers in the world.

“My miscalculation was to bring over the equipment [from Japan] and just trying to follow the process,” Honighausen said. “I’ve been in business for 30 years, and I’ve never owned a factory. The process I used was different and more complicated. I tried to introduce a more automated process to compete with imports.”

The pottery at 3672 Silliman St. was once the site of Bell-Terr China, which produced high-end tableware until it closed in the 1990s.

The decision to close the plant was difficult, he said, and Honighausen emphasized that the company is doing everything it can to find jobs for its former employees.

“Six of them have jobs already,” he said Thursday. “We’re doing everything we can to place people.”

Honighausen added that he continues to work with American Mug & Stein in East Liverpool, which also manufacturers a line of ceramic mugs for Starbucks.

“We took a chance,” Honighausen said. “It was worth it.”

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.