Why Technical Ceramics?

Technical ceramic materials are known for their unique thermal, electrical, and physical properties. These properties have led technical ceramics to have become an essential part of many growing industries like: aerospace, space, medical, defense, and even optics. Sapphire, a technical ceramic material with robust optical properties, is a great choice for protective windows, mirrors, and prisms in extreme environments.

This blog aims to provide an introductory understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of several technical ceramic materials, and general applications for the material category.

Properties of  Technical Ceramic Materials

Technical ceramic materials, sometimes referred to as engineered ceramics or industrial ceramics, have unique characteristics that offer both advantages and disadvantages. It’s important to understand these pros and cons to be able to determine the best material for a specific application. (This conversation is something the IRD Team can assist with if needed!) Some of these characteristics and properties include:

●     High Dielectric Strength

  • Materials have limits on the electrical voltage they can manage before breaking down. This limit is quantified and measured by the material’s dielectric strength. A material with high dielectric strength can endure high voltages for longer periods without allowing energy through. Technical ceramic materials have high dielectric strength, making them ideal for use in electrical applications such as capacitors and insulators.

●     Low Thermal Expansion

  • Technical ceramic materials have a low coefficient of thermal expansion, making them resistant to thermal shock and allowing for stable performance over a wide temperature range. Most materials swell with the application of heat because the energy causes the atoms to move more rapidly, stretching their bonds. Ceramics generally have a low coefficient due to their strong interatomic bonds, making them more stable across wide temperature ranges.

●     High Thermal Stability

  • Technical ceramic materials have high thermal stability, meaning they can withstand extremely high and low temperatures without deforming or breaking down. This property makes them suitable for use in high-temperature applications such as laser optics.

●     High Hardness

  • Technical ceramic materials are extremely hard, making them resistant to scratches and wear. This property makes them ideal for use in high-precision applications where durability is essential. Ceramic components frequently have a longer wear life. The harder a material, the more resistant it is to localized permanent deformation from indentation or abrasion.

Examples of Technical Ceramic Materials

●     Sapphire

  • Sapphire, a form of aluminum oxide, is a standout technical ceramic known for its exceptional hardness and broad optical clarity, which makes it suitable for almost any application with windows/lenses. Sapphire is widely used in a variety of industries like optics, electronics, aerospace, medical, and laser. Sapphire is a top choice for transparent windows, lenses, sensors and substrates, combining durability with high-performance optics.

●     Zirconia

  • Zirconia is a ceramic material that offers high hardness, low thermal expansion, and high dielectric strength. Zirconia’s durability and fracture toughness make it a great selection in high-power laser applications. Its biocompatibility also makes it useful for medical implant applications such as joint replacements.

●     Silicon Carbide

  • Silicon carbide is another type of ceramic material that is known for its high hardness and thermal stability, making it a strong mechanical performer. It is often used in applications such as semiconductors, power conversion in electric vehicles and solar fields, many space applications, mirrors, and more.

●     Aluminum Oxide or Alumina

  • Aluminum oxide or Alumina, is a common type of ceramic material that is commonly used in a variety of applications and industries due to its high hardness, wear resistance, and thermal stability. Alumina is useful in applications like high-performance insulators, spacers, heat sinks, medical devices, mounts and isolators in space-based projects, and many other applications in extreme environments.

Technical Ceramic Applications

●       Semiconductor Processing

  • Ceramics such as alumina and silicon carbide are used in semiconductor manufacturing for components like wafer chucks, handling tools, and furnace parts due to their electrical insulation and thermal stability

●     Aerospace Components

  • Technical ceramics are utilized in aerospace applications for manufacturing components like turbine blades and heat shields due to their ability to be light-weighted, stiffness and resistance to high temperatures.

●     Cutting Tools

  • Ceramics like alumina are used to manufacture cutting tools for machining operations. Their hardness and wear resistance make them suitable for cutting, milling, and drilling in challenging materials.
  • High-wear Components
    • The high hardness of technical ceramics makes these materials a superior selection for components used in high-wear areas, such as industrial bushings and spacers, fiber tips and precision nozzles.

While technical ceramics are a standout material class on their own, Sapphire has a broader range of optical applications than its other ceramic counterparts.

Sapphire Applications in Optics

●       Space Applications

  • Sapphire optical components are integral in various scientific instruments used in satellites, including spectrometers and camera systems, where high precision, broad transmission and high durability are crucial.

●       Precision Lenses & Laser Windows

  • Sapphire’s ability to transmit a broad range (~150-5000nm) of wavelengths of light, combined with its hardness, makes it an excellent material for lenses and laser windows. It can be used in high-power laser systems without significant degradation or sacrificing optical clarity.

●       Military and Harsh Environment

  • Sapphire windows are widely used in optical applications where the systems endure extreme environments, including blowing dust and sand, temperature extremes and salt water. Sapphire’s hardness and broad transmission spectrum make it a natural fit for these types of applications.

Technical ceramic materials stand out as catalysts for innovation. Their unique combination of properties opens new avenues for precision, durability, and efficiency in engineering. As we look to the future, the marriage of technical ceramics and optics promises to illuminate a path toward groundbreaking technologies and applications. The journey has just begun, and the advantages of technical ceramics are becoming greater with each passing development.

If you are looking for assistance with technical ceramic components, IRD Glass can help! We are experienced with alumina, Zirconia, silicon nitride, silicon carbide, sapphire, and more! Please fill out the form below and our staff will be in touch to help with your project.