5 Insights on the Future of Technical Ceramics from Ceramics Expo 2019
Author: Nick Farrah, Materion, Product Line Director
This week, Ceramics Expo 2019 brought together more than 300 leading global manufacturers and suppliers from across the supply chain to find new approaches to engineering challenges.
As a key exhibitor at the expo, our Materion team is continuing the discussion beyond the trade show floor by capturing some of biggest insights from this year’s event. Whether you were at the show or unable to attend, check out our take on the industry trends and technologies from the 2019 Ceramics Expo.
1. 5G Requires Ceramics
With all eyes on the 5G rollout, it is becoming more evident that new materials will be needed to improve 5G antenna performance. While this might not be news to those who work directly in the telecommunication and microwave industries, others may be surprised to learn that the industry could see a shift toward ceramics to handle thermal management of the complex operating environments associated with 5G infrastructure.
The 5G network will also drive growth for millimeter wave applications, which require small parts and tight tolerances. Since not all of these components can be manufactured with existing technology, there will be a need to advance the current manufacturing infrastructure to fill this space in the industry.
2. Better Together Through Industry Partnerships
As the industry continues to evolve at a rapid pace, it is increasingly critical for existing companies to establish partnerships with start-ups and universities to help drive organic growth and more quickly innovate and advance in the materials space.
Collaboration is already being driven by associations like the American Ceramic Society (ACerS) and tradeshows like Ceramics Expo. These industry forums help enable new ceramic and glass materials to come to market more quickly.
3. Cultivating Young Talent
The ceramics industry faces the same hiring challenges that manufacturing companies face across the board. The industry needs to cultivate a talent pipeline of engineers, machinists and leaders who will drive the industry forward for years to come. On a positive note, Ceramics Expo attracted a range of students and PhD candidates this year. The presence of institutions like Alfred University and Pennsylvania State University showcase the dedicated centers of professional ceramics and material science development that will be integral to the industry moving forward.
4. The Need for Speed in R&D
New product introduction driven by research and development is a notoriously long process across many industries—including ceramics. To meet engineering demands, it is critical that either through the growth of R&D departments or through the acquisition of new companies, the ceramics industry continues to explore new avenues for new materials.
Materion’s investments in our ceramic R&D have led to successful innovation with beryllium oxide (BeO) ceramics. This year we developed the capability to produce large format BeO ceramics in sizes not currently available anywhere else in the world—up to 380mm (15”) in diameter and up to 6.35mm (1/4”) thick. This enables improved performance in applications that would benefit from the high thermal conductivity (285 W/m•K) of BeO but that have, until now, been limited to ceramics with lower conductivity such as alumina or aluminum nitride (AlN).
5. Additive Manufacturing Enables Ceramics Customization
Additive manufacturing (AM), or 3D printing, offers customization in a range of materials. This is a trend we expect to develop further, as it allows customers to try ceramics products without the cost associated with making a small number of parts through traditional tooling methods.
This process also enables many design iterations, meaning engineers have more opportunity to explore various designs and determine the best result. One company showcased how one customer created 75 iterations with AM to get the part just right.
A key challenge we see with this trend is in opening up the mindset of design engineers to specify additive manufacturing for an application due to the newness of this technology.
Materion Ceramic Innovation
At Materion, we’re constantly analyzing industry trends so we can stay in front of changing customer needs. Since Ceramics Expo 2018, we have added an OptiPro Systems OptiSonic 550X ultrasonic machining center to our factory, which enables us to manufacture complex beryllium oxide (BeO) and alumina (Al2O3) technical ceramic parts at lower cost for a range of industrial, aerospace, and military applications.
Nick Farrah is the product line director for beryllium foil and ceramics and the market manager for electronics manufacturing infrastructure at Materion. He has over thirty years of product management experience in industries ranging from aerospace to healthcare.
Ceramics Expo is a leading annual conference and forum for the advanced ceramics and glass industries held in Cleveland, Ohio.