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Ceramics

This term generally refers to the industry that produces the non-metallic objects we use every day (like porcelain, tile, glass, stoneware).

Details

The word ceramics can be used in multiple contexts, but here we think of it as the umbrella term for the industry that densifies and vitrifies non-metallics by firing them in kilns. Ceramic products (vs. metallics) have the potential to be very hard (but can also be brittle). Ceramic products have the potential to withstand high temperatures, to resist oxidation and attack by acids and bases; no metal can compete. As a testament to the durability of ceramic, all that remains from many ancient civilizations are stone and ceramic objects. And, not only do ceramics give us function, but objects can be decorated and colored in an infinite variety of ways. And the ceramic process is accessible, the production of durable and functional objects is within the reach of even the most primitive cultures.

Hundreds of companies make materials for the industry. Principal ones are simply powderized and 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 widely manufactured and readily available (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 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.

Links

Glossary Abrasion Ceramics
Man-made ceramic surfaces are among the most abrasion resistant materials known. Products made to abrade others are also made from bonded ceramic grains.
Glossary Pyroceramics
Glossary Non Oxide Ceramics
Glossary Ceramic Material
Ceramic materials are employed in the ceramic industry to make glazes, bodies, engobes and refractories. We study them at the mineral, chemical and physical levels.
Glossary Cordierite Ceramics
In the ceramic industry, cordierite is a man-made refractory crystalline material having extremely low thermal expansion.
Glossary Vitrification
The term vitrified refers to the fired state of a piece of porcelain or stoneware. Vitrified ware has been fired high enough to make it very strong, hard and dense.

By Tony Hansen


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