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Ceramics Design

A ceramic is an inorganic, non-metallic solid prepared by the action of heat and subsequent cooling. Ceramic materials may have a crystalline or partly crystalline structure, or may be amorphous (e.g., a glass). Because most common ceramics are crystalline, the definition of ceramic is often restricted to inorganic crystalline materials, as opposed to the non-crystalline glasses.

The word ceramic comes from the Greek word (keramikos) meaning pottery, which is said to derive from the Indo-European word ker, meaning heat.

We are concerned with Technical Ceramics, also known as Engineering Ceramic, Advanced Ceramic or Special Ceramic. Such items include tiles used in the Space Shuttle program, gas burner nozzles, ballistic protection, nuclear fuel uranium oxide pellets, bio-medical implants, jet engine turbine blades, and missile nose cones. Frequently the raw materials do not include clays.

Classification of technical ceramics

Technical ceramics can be classified into three distinct material categories:

Oxides: Alumina, zirconia

Non-oxides: Carbides, borides, nitrides, silicides

Composites: Particulate reinforced, combinations of oxides and non-oxides.

Each one of these classes can develop unique material properties because ceramics tend to be crystalline.

Other applications of ceramics

Ceramics are used in the manufacture of knives. The blade of a ceramic knife will stay sharp for much longer than that of a steel knife, although it is more brittle and can be snapped by dropping it on a hard surface.

Ceramics are increasingly used in motorsports, where a series of durable and lightweight insulatory coatings have become neccessary, for example on exhaust manifolds.

Ceramics such as alumina and boron carbide have been used in ballistic armored vests to repel large-calibre rifle fire. Such plates are known commonly as Small Arms Protective Inserts (SAPI). Similar material is used to protect cockpits of some military airplanes, because of the low weight of the material.

Ceramic balls can be used to replace steel in ball bearings. Their higher hardness means that they are much less susceptible to wear and can offer more than triple lifetimes. They also deform less under load meaning they have less contact with the bearing retainer walls and can roll faster. In very high speed applications, heat from friction during rolling can cause problems for metal bearings; problems which are reduced by the use of ceramics. Ceramics are also more chemically resistant and can be used in wet environments where steel bearings would rust. The two major drawbacks to using ceramics is a significantly higher cost, and susceptibility to damage under shock loads. In many cases their electrically insulating properties may also be valuable in bearings.

In the early 1980s, Toyota researched production of an adiabatic ceramic engine which can run at a temperature of over 6000 °F (3300 °C). Ceramic engines are made of lighter materials and do not require a cooling system and hence allow a major weight reduction . Fuel efficiency of the engine is also higher at high temperature, as shown by Carnot's theorem. In a conventional metallic engine, much of the energy released from the fuel must be dissipated as waste heat in order to prevent a meltdown of the metallic parts. Despite all of these desirable properties, such engines are not in production because the manufacturing of ceramic parts in the requisite precision and durability is difficult. Imperfection in the ceramic leads to cracks, which can lead to potentially dangerous equipment failure. Such engines are possible in laboratory settings, but mass-production is not feasible with current technology.

Work is being done in developing ceramic parts for gas turbine engines. Currently, even blades made of advanced metal alloys used in the engines' hot section require cooling and careful limiting of operating temperatures. Turbine engines made with ceramics could operate more efficiently, giving aircraft greater range and payload for a set amount of fuel.

Recently, there have been advances in ceramics which include bio-ceramics, such as dental implants and synthetic bones. Hydroxyapatite, the natural mineral component of bone, has been made synthetically from a number of biological and chemical sources and can be formed into ceramic materials. Orthopedic implants made from these materials bond readily to bone and other tissues in the body without rejection or inflammatory reactions. Because of this, they are of great interest for gene delivery and tissue engineering scaffolds. Most hydroxyapatite ceramics are very porous and lack mechanical strength and are used to coat metal orthopedic devices to aid in forming a bond to bone or as bone fillers. They are also used as fillers for orthopedic plastic screws to aid in reducing the inflammation and increase absorption of these plastic materials. Work is being done to make strong, fully dense nano crystalline hydroxyapatite ceramic materials for orthopedic weight bearing devices, replacing foreign metal and plastic orthopedic materials with a synthetic, but naturally occurring, bone mineral. Ultimately these ceramic materials may be used as bone replacements or with the incorporation of protein collagens, synthetic bones.

High-tech ceramic is used in watchmaking for producing watch cases. The material is valued by watchmakers for its light weight, scratch-resistance, durability and smooth touch.

Types of ceramic materials

A ceramic material is often understood as restricted to inorganic crystalline oxide material. It is solid and inert. Ceramic materials are brittle, hard, strong in compression, weak in shearing and tension. They withstand chemical erosion that occurs in other materials subjected to acidic or caustic environment. Ceramics generally can withstand very high temperatures such as temperatures that range from 1,000 °C to 1,600 °C (1,800 °F to 3,000 °F). Exceptions include inorganic materials that do not include oxygen such as silicon carbide or silicon nitride. A glass is often not understood as a ceramic because of its amorphous (non-crystalline) character. However, glass making involves several steps of the ceramic process and its mechanical properties are similar to ceramic materials.

Traditional ceramic raw materials include clay minerals such as kaolinite, whereas more recent materials include aluminium oxide, more commonly known as alumina. The modern ceramic materials, which are classified as advanced ceramics, include silicon carbide and tungsten carbide. Both are valued for their abrasion resistance, and hence find use in applications such as the wear plates of crushing equipment in mining operations. Advanced ceramics are also used in the medicine, electrical and electronics industries.

Crystalline ceramics

Crystalline ceramic materials are not amenable to a great range of processing. Methods for dealing with them tend to fall into one of two categories - either make the ceramic in the desired shape, by reaction in situ, or by ''forming'' powders into the desired shape, and then sintering to form a solid body. Ceramic forming techniques include shaping by hand (sometimes including a rotation process called ''throwing''), slip casting, tape casting (used for making very thin ceramic capacitors, etc.), injection moulding, dry pressing, and other variations. A few methods use a hybrid between the two approaches.

Non-crystalline ceramics

Non-crystalline ceramics, being glasses, tend to be formed from melts. The glass is shaped when either fully molten, by casting, or when in a state of toffee-like viscosity, by methods such as blowing to a mold. If later heat-treatments cause this glass to become partly crystalline, the resulting material is known as a glass-ceramic.

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