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Thermal Ceramics: Introduction

Thermal Ceramics

Ceramics are undoubtedly a form of art, but there have always been endeavors to make ceramics into items of utility. Indeed, ceramics were developed as objects for use, and not simply as show pieces. Considering the heavy use of ceramic ware that is made in the kitchens and furnaces, it becomes extremely necessary that ceramics should become heat-resistant. There have been many attempts at making ceramics heat-resistant, and these have evolved in the form of ceramics that are known as thermal ceramics.

What are Thermal Ceramics?

Thermal ceramics are all those ceramics that need to be used in places where the temperatures can get to be quite high. Such ceramics need to be heat-resistant. In actuality, all ceramics are heat-resistant since they are made by firing the clay once or twice at extremely high temperatures in furnaces. They are later cooled down and then painted or glazed.

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However, ordinary ceramics will crack if they are continuously subjected to high temperatures, even though they may have been made by high temperature firing. Also, there may be dunts, i.e. cracks when the ceramic was setting, which could widen and break the whole ceramic article when subjected to a high temperature again.

In order to overcome all these difficulties, thermal ceramics are needed where they are to be used in high temperatures. Ceramics used for insulating and refractory purposes come under this category.

Image courtesy of Zircotec

Different Types of Thermal Ceramics

There are three different classifications of thermal ceramics depending on the use they are subjected to. The following are the three types:

I. Insulating Firebricks – Insulating firebricks are extremely high heat resistant bricks that are used to make the inner lining, the floor and the channels of the furnaces. In metallurgical operations using the blast furnace (such as the one used in the smelting or iron), there is a need for withstanding extremely high temperatures. This is where insulating firebricks can be used in order to withstand the internal temperature as well as to insulate the temperature from radiating outside. Insulating firebricks are generally made in the shape of rectangular slabs.

II. Monolithics – These are thermal ceramics that are used as castables. They are generally heavy and are quite versatile in their uses. Castable ceramics can be made as low castables, dense castables, castables with high amount of iron and alumina, etc. All castables are insulating, but they can be made specially insulating by modifying the processes in their manufacture.

III. Fibers – Fibers are a kind of plastic foam such as Kevlar that has been made from ceramics clay. These are used in manufacturing purposes in industries such as glass, iron and steel, incineration, production of aluminum and in metallurgical operations for the manufacture of other metals. One important property that is looked for in fibers is that they should have a low shrinkage.

Markets where Thermal Ceramics are Used

Thermal ceramics are used in all areas where there is a requirement of high temperature resistant ceramics. Some key industries in which they are used are:

I. Manufacturing of scientific equipment
II. Manufacturing of aircraft and defense equipment
III. Semiconductor processing
IV. Thermal management

In these and other such industries, thermal ceramics are used to make liners in refractory furnaces (firebricks), drying towers, baths, floors and channels of the furnaces.

The insulating thermal ceramics ware also finds a lot of use in household appliances like ovens, and in places like steam generators in saunas, etc.

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