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Understanding Advanced Ceramics in Industrial Applications

There is much you can say about the advanced ceramics industry. It's a subject we love to talk about. As experts in the field, we can get as technical as anyone. However, it's also important to be able to explain the process of advanced ceramics in a way understandable to people outside of the industry.

Sometimes clients just want a summarization of the whatwhy, and how of a product. We’d like to answer these kinds of questions, what they are, why they’re so useful, and how they’re manufactured.

What Are Advanced Ceramics?

Before we answer this question, let’s define what ceramic material is in the first place. To start, ceramic is a material produced through heat that has the following qualities: low electrical conductivity, natural hardness, low thermal conductivity, and high brittleness (low flexibility). These qualities make it a unique and important material in many industrial applications that deal with heat, electricity, and compressive force.

Advanced ceramics, on the other hand, are defined by the characteristics that make them stand apart from traditional ceramics. It would be impossible to give an umbrella definition that summarizes the qualities of advanced ceramic materials; there are many varieties, all with their own attributes. However, it would be accurate to define advanced ceramics as ceramic material that is enhanced in one way or another through the application of modern material science. To put it simply, advanced ceramics are a newer, better type of ceramic.

The Difference Between Advanced and Traditional Ceramics

The great thing about advanced ceramics is they share the attributes you want from traditional ceramics while having characteristics that make them more beneficial to whatever industrial process they will be used in. The qualities found in advanced ceramics are developed in a lab while traditional ceramics can only be defined by their inherent characteristics.

When we break down the difference between advanced and traditional ceramics to a client at a high level, we talk about two things; advanced ceramics can be as different or as similar to traditional ceramics as you want while traditional ceramics will function as they have for millennia.

Advanced Ceramic Materials

There are many varieties of advanced ceramics on the market, all with their own beneficial qualities. We’ll break down the most popular.

Metal-oxide Ceramics: a type of ceramic that is pressed with a metal allow. The most common alloys used in this process are alumina, beryllia, and zirconia.

Glass Ceramics: a combination of molten glass and ceramic, glass-enhanced ceramics have a lower porosity, which makes them more durable and, with fine-tuned control of the crystalline structure of the glass, can be tailored to withstand different temperature ranges. The three primary types of this ceramic are lithium-aluminum-silicate (LAS, or beta spodumene), magnesium-aluminum-silicate (MAS, or cordierite), and aluminum-silicate (AS, or aluminous keatite).

Carbide & Nitride Ceramics: while ceramics are naturally brittle, carbide and nitride enhanced ceramics have an extremely low density, which minimized the brittle qualities in the material. These types of ceramics are often used in bullet-proof plating, for instance, due to their low density. The most common materials used in this type are ceramic are boron carbide and nitride, silicon carbide and nitride, and aluminum nitride.

Advanced Ceramic Manufacturing

There are a few manufacturing processes that produce engineered ceramics. Each process is used when appropriate; not all materials can be bonded to ceramic using the same process.

Hot Pressing: as the name applies, pressure is applied across the entire surface of the material, which bonds the enhancing material to the ceramic using both heat and pressure.

Reaction Bonding: bonding in this manner is completed through a chemical reaction, which is most often liquid or vapor silicon introduced to the ceramic at a high temperature. The reaction forms silicon carbide, which bonds to the ceramic.

Recrystallization: this “cold” method of ceramics processing changes the crystalline structure of the ceramic’s natural zirconium diboride atoms, thus rejoining them into a "strain free" matrix of atoms. The result of this process produces a ceramic that acts much in the same way as a metal.

Ceramic brake pad on a car.

Advanced Ceramic Applications

The applications for advanced or engineered ceramics are almost endless. Depending on the material and the process laboratories can create ceramics with material properties fine-tuned to be most beneficial to their specific industrial application. Here are just a few of the everyday things that benefit from processed ceramics:

  • Exhaust nozzles
  • Nose caps
  • High-end braking systems
  • Turbine engines
  • Valves
  • Cutting tools
  • Labware

We find it's best to think of advanced ceramics as a pinnacle of the material sciences. Using a variety of processes, we can pick-and-choose how we want our ceramics to act. In industrial, mechanical, medical, and laboratory settings this is a dream come true.

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