Ceramic Industry

Investing In Ceramics - Growing with Demand

June 1, 2001
Tosoh Corp. is doubling its zirconia production capacity to keep pace with increased demand.

Various types of sintered components can be manufactured using Tosoh's zirconia powder (center).
Tosoh Corp., which manufactures chemicals, petro chemicals and other specialty products, recently announced plans to double its zirconia powder production capacity to 1300 tons per year. Work on the expansion project at Tosoh’s Nanyo, Japan, complex is scheduled to begin this spring, with completion expected by autumn of this year.

A Long History

Tosoh Corp., founded as Toyo Soda Manufacturing Co., Ltd., began operations in 1935 producing soda ash for glass manufacturing. Production of bromine was added in 1942, and in 1943 the company began offering caustic soda. More and more products were added over the years, including fused phosphate, chlorinated paraffin, cement, ammonium chloride fertilizer, and phosphoric acid, to name but a few. In 1964, the company opened an office in New York (later named Tosoh USA Inc.).

Since then, additional products and acquisitions have enabled Tosoh to further diversify and expand. Today, the company’s product line serves markets ranging from construction to pharmaceuticals to electronics. “Tosoh employees total some 8000 in 13 countries around the world, with sales of roughly US $3.5 billion annually,” reports Jay Thomas, product manager, Tosoh Ceramics Division, Tosoh SGM USA, Inc.

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Zirconia Production

Tosoh began producing high strength zirconia powder in 1983, and the company introduced fully integrated zirconia and zirconia ceramics in 1988. “We initially started production in 1988 with an annual capacity of 200 metric tons per year, which we were led to believe was the biggest in the world,” says Thomas. Production was expanded in 1996 to 370 tons per year, and just last August the company further increased production to 620 tons per year.

Tosoh’s zirconia grinding media* is used widely in the electronics industry in the production of multi-layer ceramic capacitors (MLCCs). “The multi-layer ceramic capacitor is a device that presently has 100 layers of material in an area the size of the head of a pin,” says Thomas. “So the layers are obviously very thin. And they’re moving to 300 layers and then on to 600 layers in that device. In order to get the layers of material that thin, the ceramic slurries, which are basically each layer of that capacitor, have to be ground very, very fine. And our grinding media accomplishes that. Presently we’re supplying, commercially, grinding media that is 0.1 mm in diameter. And our product development efforts are working to reduce media diameters even further.”

Zirconia powder is also used in the production of optical fibers. “Our powder is used to manufacture the ferrules that hold the optical fiber in the connector,” says Thomas. “With the advent of the Internet, global networks are growing, and the demand for these ferrules is growing right along with it. So we have to maintain our ability to supply the large amounts of material to manufacture those ferrules.”

Additionally, Tosoh’s fully stabilized zirconia powder is being used in the manufacture of solid oxide fuel cells. “The powder is used to produce the electrolyte layer, which conducts oxygen ions in that device,” explains Thomas. “The largest market we’re seeing is here in North America, and we’re following the demands of those customers. We’re following that business intently.”

What’s Next?

Tosoh currently commands a 60% share of the global zirconia market and a 90% share of the world market for zirconia used in fiber optic connectors and other high performance products. The company expects that its most recent expansion will enable it to keep up with the increasingly demanding markets it serves. “Our intention is to remain the world’s number one supplier of high end zirconia powder,” says Thomas. “And as the demand increases, we will continue to expand to maintain our leadership role in this industry.”

For More Information

For more information about Tosoh and its products, contact Jay Thomas, 1952 Route 22 East, Bound Brook, NJ 08805; (732) 271-9660; fax (732) 271-9665; e-mail jthomas@tosohquartz.com; http://www.tosoh.com.