Rethinking Manufacturing Processes in Materials Science

From microscopic transistors in laptops’ core processors to clay bricks that can withstand hurricanes, the innovative, real-world applications of ceramic materials are widespread and on the rise.1 Ceramics play crucial roles in a wide range of industries. Perhaps the most significant drawback to these materials is the complexity and high cost of the sintering process. In order to confer the key mechanical properties that distinguish ceramic materials, they must be heated for hours at temperatures over 1000 degrees Celsius. Not only is the process time-consuming and expensive due to the high energy inputs, but it also bars the development of a new generation of composite ceramic materials that combine ceramics with other materials, like polymers and metals. Because these materials often have different thermal stabilities and chemical compatibilities, sintering can lead to shrinkage and other damage.2

To deal with this problem, researchers at Penn State University have developed a new method of “cold sintering.” This process enables the sintering of materials at temperatures ranging from room temperature to 200 degrees Celsius in as little as little as fifteen minutes. Rather than relying on high temperature to facilitate densification, the researchers developed a method where they use an aqueous solution to mediate a dissolution-precipitation process.3 Not only have the researchers demonstrated that the technique is applicable to a variety of inorganic compounds, including metal oxides, halides and phosphates, but their most recent publications have shown that it can be effectively integrated into the manufacture of composite ceramic materials, such as ceramic-ceramic materials, ceramic-polymer materials, ceramic-metal materials and ceramic-nanoparticle materials. The scientists believe that this process can be integrated into existing manufacturing processes for a wide range of products that currently use traditional sintering,4 and software can help facilitate this transition.

Designing Manufacturing Processes Based on Cold Sintering

For materials science companies that produce ceramics-based technologies, cold sintering can have a major impact on production processes, reducing both the manufacturing time and the required energy inputs. As process designers look to integrate cold sintering into existing methods, modern software solutions highlight the most important process drivers so that new methods can be optimized for quality and efficiency. In particular, high-level analytics and visualization capabilities allow scientists to better understand their processes during scale up so that the final result is a more effective/higher yield.

The same is true for the development of manufacturing processes for new materials that utilize cold sintering. As novel composite ceramics are incorporated into more architectural materials, electronics and biomedical devices, process designers will be challenged to find ways to increase production efficiency without sacrificing quality. By doing so, companies will be able to drive the increasing demand for these revolutionary technologies.

Utilizing Data Analytics in Cold Sintering-Based Manufacturing

Even after cold sintering has been integrated into the manufacturing processes of ceramic materials and ceramic composites, software-supported data analysis can continue to provide significant benefits for materials manufacturers.

Quality Monitoring
In order to ensure that products meet quality and regulatory standards, software makes it possible to detect product variability and quickly identify the source. This capability can be particularly valuable when a new method, such as cold sintering, has recently been integrated into the process. Analytical data can also help process designers figure out how to tweak the process in order to maximize the energy savings conferred by cold sintering.

● Intra-Organizational Collaboration
Because cold sintering can be applied to the manufacture of a wide range of ceramic materials, there may be multiple researchers in a company considering how it can be integrated into existing or novel manufacturing processes. With modern software, they can share their data and interpretations in order to learn from each other’s challenges and successes.

Data Aggregation
Modern software provides cause-and-effect analysis that can help researchers determine exactly how cold sintering contributes to the efficiency and quality of a production process for a ceramics-base material. Companies that utilize cold sintering within multiple manufacturing processes can then use software to aggregate the data, compare results and contextualize interpretations in order to build up an organizational body of knowledge regarding the optimal way to include cold sintering in general manufacturing processes.

Overall, the discovery of cold sintering and its application to the development of ceramics composites has the potential to significantly impact the production of advanced ceramics technologies in a wide range of industries. Using modern software, process designers at materials science companies can easily apply the technique to the manufacture of new and existing technologies, and it generates relevant data that can further streamline process design in the future.

BIOVIA Materials Studio and BIOVIA Discoverant are software solutions that support the development of manufacturing processes and enable production quality monitoring. Whether your company is replacing traditional sintering with cold sintering or manufacturing new ceramics composites that require the use of this new method, Materials Studio and Discoverant can help you optimize the production process.

1 “Ceramic Science and Engineering,” 2015, http://ceramics.org/knowledge-center/learn-about-ceramics
2 “Cold sintering of ceramics instead of high-temperature firing,” August 16, 2016, http://phys.org/news/2016-08-cold-sintering-ceramics-high-temperature.html
3 “Cold Sintering: A Paradigm Shift for Processing and Integration of Ceramics,” August 11, 2016, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ange.201605443/full
4 “Lowering the heat makes new materials possible while saving energy,” October 5, 2016, https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-10/ps-lth100516.php

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