Ceramic engineers and technicians must take control of their production processes to trouble-shoot and have fewer problems, be able to adjust or improve bodies and glazes and formulate new ones. A long term program of quality control measurements is an essential context in which to deal with anomalies in a production process. Where you depend on external suppliers it is doubly important to be measuring (and documenting) the physical properties that most directly impact your process and products.
Specification for a Tapper Clay lacks physics
Often ceramic clays are described on data sheets primarily by their chemistry (and requested as such). This is typically done at the expense of physical properties data. For example, Tapper clay is employed to plug the drain hole of ladles used to melt metals in the smelting industry. The operators of that equipment confront, in the physical presence of the material, many properties that have no relation to the chemistry (e.g. plasticity, shrinkage, water content). Notice also that the chemistry is not correct anyway, it species calcined material yet does not total 100. It specifies no carbon, yet this chemistry is like a ball clay, all of which have some carbon.
Lab testing a clay for its physical properties
SHAB test bars, an LDW tester for water content and a DFAC test disk about to be put into a drier. The SHAB (shrinkage-absorption) bars shrink during drying and firing, the length is measured at each stage. The LDW sample is weighed wet, dry and fired. The can prevents the inner portion of the DFAC disk from drying and this sets up stresses that cause it to crack. The nature of the cracking pattern and its magnitude are recorded as a Drying Factor. The numbers from all of these measurements are recorded in my account at Insight-live. It can present a complete physical properties report that calculates things like drying shrinkage, firing shrinkage, water content and LOI from these measured values.
Why does Tony Hansen take months to unload his kilns?
I love making pottery, but I love the technical side more. I searched for all the test specimens in this load of cone 10 reduction ware first, then pushed it back in and forgot about it. For three months! I really anticipate the test results (I am developing and adjusting many of bodies and glazes at any given time). The data and pictures for them go into my account at insight-live.com, it enables me to compare the chemistry and physical properties of recipes and materials side-by-side. That teaches me which roads to abandon and which ones to pursue. My last kiln went back in for six weeks, so things are getting worse!
We fight the dragon that others do not even see
There are thousands of ceramic glaze recipes floating around the internet. People dream of finding that perfect one, but they often only think about the visual appearance, not of the usability, function, safety, cost or materials. That resistance to understanding your materials and glazes and learning to take control is what we personify as the dragon. Using the resources on this site you could be fixing, adjusting, testing, formulating your own glaze recipes. Start with your own account at insight-live.com.
The kaolin arrives on a semi of 880 bags. First step in testing: Note its date code.
A shipment EP Kaolin has arrived for use in production of porcelain and stoneware bodies. Of course, this needs to be tested before being put into product. But how? The first step is to create a new recipe record in my Insight-Live account, and find their production date code stamp on the bag. Hmmm. It does not have one! OK, then I need to record the date on which we received it. We need to save a bag on every pallet and sieve 50 grams through 100 mesh (to spot contamination). Then we'll make test bars (of all the samples mixed) to fire across a range of temperatures (to compare fired maturity with past shipments). We do a drying performance disk also, it also shows soluble salts.
Do not rely on material data sheets, do the testing
The cone 6 porcelain on the left uses Grolleg kaolin, the right uses Tile #6 kaolin. The Grolleg body needs 5-10% less feldspar to vitrify it to zero porosity. It thus contains more kaolin, yet it fires significantly whiter. Theoretically this seems simple. Tile #6 contains alot more iron than Grolleg. Wrong! According to the data sheets, Grolleg has the more iron of the two. Why does it always fire whiter? I actually do not know. But the point is, do not rely totally on numbers on data sheets, do the testing yourself.
How many simultaneous testing projects can you manage at once?
This two-inch pile of lab test body and glaze mix tickets is about half of what I have tested in the past year. I have added thousands of pictures too (using my smartphone). I just realized why I am doing a lot more testing. It is so much easier to organize the record keeping in my Insight-live.com account. I can manage so many separate testing projects. I have so much more of a sense that I am progressing. And it feels great to build such an organized set of records that I can refer back to.
Scale, calipers and fired test bars to be measured for shrinkage
These are part of the procedure for the SHAB test. The length of the bars is entered into a recipe record in your account at insight-live.com. When Insight-live has these numbers it can calculate the drying and fired shrinkages.
Examples of DFAC disk, SHAB bar, LOI bar for clay testing
By preparing these three tests you can measure many properties of a clay body. These include drying shrinkage, fired shrinkage, porosity, drying performance, soluble salts content, water content and LOI.
Stamp used for stamping information onto clay test bars
This type of stamp is deal for stamping mix and ID information on SHAB (and many other test types) clay test bars. Set up the run or recipe number on the left and the specimen number on the right.
Can you afford to completely trust supplier body quality control reports?
This body is used in the sanitary ware industry in China, the supplier sends this report with each shipment. The chemistry and assorted values for porosity, shrinkage, particle size are provided. The factory receiving this report accepts it as gospel and goes into production. However engineers at the plant need to think twice about such reports. These tests are being done at one temperature, they say nothing about what that body is doing above and below that temperature. Is it being employed in a volatile range of the porosity or firing shrinkage curves? Zero porosity bodies of this type are best when fired to a point near where the porosity curve descends to reach the x-axis. However that curve remains at zero while the shrinkage one tops out and reverses direction. At some point the porosity curve sharply rises. Only by firing and testing at a range of temperatures in your own lab can you where your body is on the curve.
Clay test bars ready for measuring
SHAB (Shrinkage, Absorption) test bars ready to unload. These are measured for length after drying and firing and for weight after firing and boiling. This data is plugged into my account at insight-live.com and it calculates shrinkage and porosity numbers. If you fire bars of a clay to a range of temperatures you can characterize key properties of a clay very effectively.
Compiling test bar shrinkage and weights for Insight-live
A batch of fired test bars, organized by temperature, have already been weighed (the weight is written on the side of each bar). Now they will be measured and the SHAB test data (shrinkage/absorption) entered into each recipe record (in an account at insight-live.com). From this data Insight-live can calculate fired shrinkage and fired porosity, enabling you to compare the degree of vitrification of different materials and bodies. This is especially good for quality control purposes.
Testing your own native clays is easier that you might think
Some simple equipment is all you need. It is amazing how much you can learn from characterizing a body or clay material. You need a gram scale accurate to 0.01 grams (very inexpensive at your ceramic supplier). A set of callipers (again, not expensive these days). Some metal sieves (expensive, so search "Tyler Sieves" on Ebay.com). A stamp to identify samples. A plaster table or slab. A propeller mixer. And, of course, a test kiln. And you need a place to put, and learn from, all the measurement data you will be collecting. An account at insight-live.com is perfect.
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