High Tech Ceramics Industry Review
Advanced ceramics, which encompasses a variety of materials, markets, and applications, had healthy growth in 2003, especially in the structural ceramics area. This was due to increased demand for ceramic armors for personal protection as well as for military vehicles.
Advanced Ceramic materials include: oxides, carbides, nitrides, borides, silicates and glass ceramics. The most commonly used advanced ceramic materials are: alumina, zirconia, silicon carbide, silicon nitride, sialon, ferrites and titanates. In the broad category of advanced ceramics, advanced structural ceramics constitute those materials that are used for high performance applications where a combination of properties such as wear resistance, hardness, stiffness, corrosion resistance and low density are important. In addition to these properties, advanced structural ceramics have relatively high mechanical strength at high temperatures.
Because of their excellent mechanical properties, structural ceramics are already finding increased usage in many load bearing applications such as cutting tools, wear-resistant parts, aerospace and military applications. And because some ceramics are biocompatible, they can be used as substitutes for joints and bones, dental implants and esthetic dental materials. In certain applications, ceramic composites reinforced with ceramic fiber, whisker, or particulate are found to be better than monolithic ceramics.
Electronic ceramics constitute a mature market, with some of its segments doing very well. The new high temperature ceramic superconductor offers an excellent future potential market.
The demand for ceramic coatings for military engines declined in the 1990s. However, civilian aircraft engines, tool inserts, wear-resistant and other industrial applications picked up, enabling overall market growth. Due to the new regulations for emissions from automobiles as well as hot industrial gases, ceramic automotive catalyst supports and ceramics filters are increasingly being used to reduce pollutants from these emissions. These, along with ceramic membranes, have steady markets.
Ceramic powder is a necessary ingredient for most of structural ceramics, ceramic composites, electronic ceramics and ceramic coatings. The most commonly used ceramic powders are oxides, carbides, nitrides and borides. New technologies have emerged for the production of pure and fine ceramic powders with tailored size distribution. These new developments have helped to improve the quality of ceramic components. The impact of these new developments has been felt as the advanced ceramics industry has scaled up manufacturing processes and new applications have emerged for high-end ceramic products, especially in the military. Lately several nanoceramic powders have been commercialized and are finding applications in the merging field of nanotechnology.
Despite negative growth in 2001 because of the 9/11 terrorists attacks in the U.S. and a continuing economic slump, the market improved slightly in 2002. It picked up even more by the middle of 2003. Already, there are increased activities for military related applications because of increased military spending and huge orders for ceramic armors. In terms of market share, electronic ceramics continues to hold the largest share of the market. Structural ceramics will experience the fastest growth rate. The total value of the U.S. advanced ceramic components market for 2003 is estimated to be $8.6 billion. This will increase to $12.9 billion by 2008 with an annual average growth rate of 8.3%.