Custom technical ceramics are part of a larger custom machined ceramic industry that has become increasingly more important in the last two decades. As ceramic machining becomes more sophisticated, so too do the applications that they can be used in.
Materials like alumina or Hexoloy are just two examples of cutting-edge engineered machinable ceramic that have become staples in the laboratory and manufacturing industries. However, it's not obvious to many people why these types of materials are so important.
Why Machine Ceramics?
Even conventional ceramic is a hardy, one-of-a-kind material that has been vital to the technical development of human civilization. However, it is a brittle material that is hard to manipulate.
Enter engineered, technical, or advanced ceramic; whatever you call it, it has been a groundbreaking invention. These types of ceramics benefit from the properties the low thermal expansion and a high degree of thermal shock resistance that are inherent to conventional ceramic but with enhancements that make it even more valuable to the industries that depend on ceramic.
Increased hardness, for instance, means these new and improved ceramics can be machined, cut, and ground to precision to create new components that withstand the rigors of the types of high-intensity environments found in manufacturing environments.
The Ceramic Machining & Grinding Process
If you picture a material like ceramic, then it stands to reason that you might be scratching your head in your attempt to understand how it can be machined or even formed into a specific shape. Advanced ceramics, however, are manufactured in such a way that makes them relatively easy to shape, provided you have the tools. The process is extremely technical, so we'll break it down into the basics.
A ceramic powder "blend" is mixed with a polymer blend to create a homogenous substance. The ratio of this mixture and the type of ceramic powder used (as well as the polymer, in some cases) inform the type of advanced ceramic manufactured as well as its grade and/or purity.
Using an injection molding machine, the homogenous solution of ceramic powder and polymer is pushed into a mold.
In a process known as "debinding", the molded mixture is fired under extreme temperatures. Doing this further fortifies the ceramic compound while also burning away the polymer component; the polymer substance, once used as a binder, is no longer needed after the intense process of vacuum molding.
Finally, we sinter the newly-made ceramic part, which means we bake it under intense heat and under intense pressure to increase to remove moisture, thus increasing the overall density of the part. From here we may use a diamond grinding process to further refine the part.
Types of Ceramic That Can Be Machined
Any technical ceramic can be machined to specifications with the right understanding and the right tools. However, there are 4 ceramic types that we focus on and offer to clients.
Hexoloy: a pressureless sintered form of silicon carbide. Self-bonded, extremely hard, and lightweight.
Silicon Carbide: also known as "carborundum", a material often used in semiconductors.
Alumina: a compound of aluminum and oxygen and one of our most popular engineered ceramics. Performs well in most high-intensity environments.
Zirconia: great as a thermal coating due to its extremely low thermal conductivity. Zirconia is most often used in its cubic (crystalline) form.
All of these technical ceramics have their distinct benefits and applications in a multitude of industries. With our specialized machining process, they can be formed into almost any shape for your specialized processes.