Ceramic Industry

INSIDE CI: Technically Speaking

June 1, 2006

Many people equate the word "technical" with "boring." Not so in our industry. Technical ceramics and glasses are exciting, rapidly growing industry segments. From traditional and alternative energy sources to fibers and coatings to liquid crystal and other types of displays, the applications for technical ceramics and glasses are nearly endless.

Speaking of energy, National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) President Jim Engler recently lambasted our government's energy policy in A Message for Congress and the Administration on our Energy Crisis. It's a classic supply and demand issue, says Engler, in which Congress and the Bush Administration have curtailed traditional and alternative energy sources while demand has skyrocketed worldwide, contributing "to the loss of three million U.S. manufacturing jobs since 2000."*

Of the seven steps Engler has outlined to help solve the crisis, two involve additional domestic oil and natural gas exploration and development. If you're a regular CI reader, then you're aware of the many opportunities for ceramics in alternative energy applications. However, the petroleum industry offers a multitude of current and future high-value markets for ceramics, including ultradeep wells and deepwater fields.

While energy might be at the forefront of our minds, and taking up the bulk of our pocketbooks, many products and processes in the technical ceramics and glasses arena can help keep costs in line while fostering growth. For example, polysilazane precursors provide a cost-effective route for preparing ceramic materials such as coatings for semiconductor and other applications. Opportunities abound in the advanced glasses sector, and the reduced cost of active matrix liquid crystal displays is allowing the simultaneous fabrication of an increasing number of complex display panels on a single substrate. Being smart about machining advanced ceramic parts can also help keep costs in line. Factors to consider include geometry, surface integrity, tolerance, spindle power, work chippage and consistency.

Another exciting application for technical ceramics lies in the defense industry, where a new combustion-driven compaction process has been developed for the creation of high-density and high-performance net- or near-net-shaped parts. Possible applications for the process include X-ray targets, laser optical mirrors, projectiles, and lighter and stronger armor tiles.

Keeping costs down remains paramount to remaining competitive in the worldwide marketplace, especially with the energy crisis spiraling seemingly out of control. In his message, Engler writes, "America is in the midst of a growing energy crisis that is having a devastating effect on manufacturers. Congress and the Bush Administration have contributed to this problem and now should look in the mirror to help fix it." However, others would argue that while Engler might not be off-base regarding energy supply and demand, he hasn't effectively touted opportunities for manufacturers in alternative energy applications.

What do you think? Drop me an e-mail at suttons@bnpmedia.com or post a message on CI's Bulletin Board at http://www.ceramicindustry.com to share your views.

*NAM Prosperity Project. The full text of Engler's message, as well as additional information on the NAM Prosperity Project and other initiatives, is available at http://www.nam.org .