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The word ceramics can be used in multiple contexts, but here we think of it as the umbrella term for the industry that produces non-metallics by firing them in a kiln. Ceramic products (vs. metallics) have the potential to be very hard (but are also brittle), they can withstand high temperatures, they resist attack by acids and bases and can be colored and decorated in an infinite variety of ways. The production of ceramic objects is within the reach of even the most primitive cultures.

Hundreds of companies make materials for the industry. Principal ones are simply powderized materials that have been washed or dug from sediments or blasted from rock (e.g. quartz, kaolins, ball clays, stonewares, earthenwares, feldspars, calcia and magnesia sources (like dolomite, wollastonite, calcium carbonate, talc). Man-made materials are also employed (like frits, lithum carbonate, zinc oxide, strontium carbonate, tin oxide, zirconium). Metal oxides (and stains made from them) are used as colorants. While the materials that companies supply can all be used in other contexts, their ceramic grades generally are ground finer, have minimal solubles and are blended and maintained to have consistent properties important in ceramics (the manufacturers provide data sheets specific to the properties).

Here we generally deal with traditional ceramics (as opposed to high-tech). Traditional ceramics include ceramic tile, tableware, pottery, porcelain, brick, sculpture, etc. Technically, glass is also ceramic, but it is generally considered a separate industry (although the glazes used on so many ceramic products are technically glass). All of the producers of these products deal with similar challenges to produce a consistent and useful products.

The ceramic industry is among the largest users of energy in the world. The tile industry is by far the largest sector. Ceramic industry trade publications address material supply issues, production and process developments and problems, powder processing, developments in material technology, equipment used in production and testing, chemistry and physics related to materials and processes, etc.

Potters, in small studios using electric and gas periodic kilns, can do on a small scale what industries do on a huge scale. They generally are closer to the materials (understanding them for how they feel and behave), they fire kilns manually (or with limited automation) and must know something about every stage of the process. Industrial users see materials as numbers on a data sheet and each facet of the process is handled by a specialist or consultant.

Out Bound Links

  • (Glossary) Abrasion Ceramics

    Abrasion ceramics can refer to two things: Products that resist abrasion because they are hard (more correctly these are actually abrasion-resistant ceramics) and products that abrade other materials because they are harder. Of course, even every-day porcelain surfaces are very durable. The hard...

  • (Glossary) Pyroceramics

    By firing spodumene based bodies a certain way an almost zero-expansion beta spodumene phase can be developed. This the basis for pyroceramic, oven-to-table ware (e.g. corning ware is a good example).

  • (Glossary) Non Oxide Ceramics

    Fired ceramic that contains no oxygen in the crystal structure. Examples are boron nitride (BN) and silicon barbide (SiC). Hundreds of different types of these materials exist (dozens of boron derivatives alone). These products exhibit a range of amazing properties including hardness, resistance to ...

  • (Glossary) Ceramic Material

    Ceramic materials are employed in the ceramic industry to make glazes, stonewares, earthenwares, porcelains, engobes, refractories, structural products, etc. We study ceramic materials at the mineral, chemical and physical levels. At first it might seem strange to define this, but it is not as ob...

  • (Glossary) Cordierite Ceramics

    Cordierite ceramics are well known for their low thermal expansion and refractory character. Although cordierite is available as a powder, when we use the term we are generally talking about ceramic that went into the kiln as ordinary composite of ceramic powders but emerges as a cordierite crystall...

By Tony Hansen

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