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Design thinking for industrial ceramics

With the current state of the industrial economy around the world this is an ideal time to consider the use of alternative materials for your applications and processes. Industrial ceramic materials, for example, offer a vast array of compositions and performance characteristics and can be a cost effective alternative in many harsh environments such as high temperature, electrical resistance, wear applications and chemical contact.

One thing however should be considered carefully in the design of ceramic alternatives. The tolerance of a dimension on a metal part may only have minor effect on cost. The same can not be said about ceramic and the cost difference for a slightly tighter tolerance can be significant. Very tight tolerancing can be achieved on ceramic components. The question you should always ask yourself is “Do we need it?”. This should also be the case for any standard tolerances listed on the drawing. If you need precision this can be achieved, but where you don’t need it, money can be saved.

As the accuracy of formed ceramics can vary greatly, it is important to chose the correct forming method. Careful selection of the process used to make the part or indeed to form the base part for later machining will keep the costs to a minimum. The use of a slightly more expensive forming process can at times save a considerable amount of machining. For improved tolerance the parts can be machined “green” (before firing) but for very tight tolerances then the parts must be machined after firing. Finish machining is often difficult and slow. This can add significant cost so should only be used when necessary.

The removal of unnecessary tolerancing and features such as chamfers can often result in massive savings. It is not uncommon for a part with excessive tolerance requirements to cost several times as much as a part correctly designed to be made in ceramic and to suit the application.

In conclusion, it is worth fully exploring alternatives materials such as industrial ceramics , to determine what cost savings, or product life and performance enhancements can be achieved. Remember however, alternate materials may necessitate a change of design thinking in order to maximise the advantages they can offer.