Breaking the mould

Posted on 13 Mar 2009 by The Manufacturer

Engineers at the University of Leicester say they have developed a new technique which ends the need for ‘trial and error’ development in ceramics production.

Professor Jingzhe Pan has introduced computer and mathematical modelling into the phase of the production process known as ‘sintering’. It could potentially save manufacturers significant quantities of time and cash and will also reduce waste, the university said.

Professor Pan explained: “Ceramics constitute vital domestic, industrial and building products, and are perhaps indispensable in our modern society. However, manufacturing advanced ceramics even in this era of ‘precision’ techniques is still very much a ‘trial and error’ process.

“Ceramics are produced from firstly compacting powders into a solid, and then firing the powder compacts in a process called ‘sintering’. During this, powders are heated to a temperature where they adhere to each other. At this stage, materials are essentially re-packed more closely, such that overall volume decreases (shrinks), whilst the density increases. Ceramics are intrinsically brittle making post-production alterations in dimensions very difficult.

Professor Pan’s technique helps to minimise errors during the sintering process. He added: “Our method simply uses density measurements of different ceramics during sintering in our computer software that can predict changes in dimensions, even before production begins.

“This method does not depend on the physical properties of any one ceramic material – it simply uses densification data from a small sample of the material and extrapolates the data, such that it can be applied to larger quantities used in manufacturing. It can thus, be applied to a wide range of ceramics”.

Professor Pan and his team now intend to focus their efforts on investigating the properties of multi-layered ceramics, commonly used in fuel cells, and industrial ceramic coating.