At the Advanced Materials Show in June 2022, AZoM spoke with Ben Melrose from International Syalons about the advanced materials market, Industry 4.0, and efforts to move toward net-zero.
Please could you introduce yourself and your professional background?
I'm Ben Melrose, the Technical Director at International Syalons. We manufacture high temperature, wear, and corrosion resistant advanced materials, specializing in sialon and silicon nitride-based ceramics. Our site is just outside Newcastle upon Tyne and has been since the 1980s.
What kinds of markets do you supply to currently, and how do you expect this to expand in the future?
We're supplying to existing customers and potential new customers who are really looking to streamline processes and make their production activities more efficient. So, if that is potentially using less energy, whether that's electricity or gas, or trying to reduce their direct emissions, this can often be made possible by incorporating a ceramic that can withstand high temperatures or reduce wear resistance.
Not only this but changing from perhaps more susceptible metal parts to harder wear-resistant ceramics, results in using fewer components.
Companies are having to change, and using fewer consumable parts is an important way of becoming more sustainable. For example, for a surface treatment company who are using nozzles to prepare a metallic surface for coatings or paint, our materials are far, far more wear-resistant than say, tungsten carbide without being that much more expensive. So that's a lot less waste, and they are saving money on replacing nozzles.
You have announced a commitment to becoming net-zero by 2050. What are some of the ways you will do this?
That's a really, really important topic for us. We're getting a lot of support from the British Ceramic Confederation. Last year they launched the British Ceramics Towards Net Zero initiative; a campaign that has some really challenging targets, and International Syalons has been involved from the beginning.
We are looking at all of our manufacturing processes. There are three scopes where emissions are considered (Scope 1 - Direct; Scope 2 – Indirect; Scope 3 - Supply chain, downstream, and wider indirect activities) and we're doing a full evaluation of our direct and indirect emissions and monitoring areas of high energy consumption. Thankfully we are not a very big direct emitter as we don't use gas to heat or power any of our manufacturing processes.
We make sure we are purchasing electricity, where possible, from renewable sources. Onsite, in our production, we are trying to run our equipment as efficiently as possible. We are about to replace all of our factory lighting with high-efficiency LED. We are considering other power generation options, including solar. And in parallel, raising awareness with our employees that it is everyone’s responsibility. So, if that means cycling to work, car sharing, or replacing their next car with an electric vehicle, we should all be more sustainable and more environmentally focused; this is a challenge for everybody.
How will technical ceramics develop over the next ten years, taking into account Industry 4.0?
In my opinion, the two main areas of focus for Industry 4.0 which are likely to be relevant to technical ceramics are primarily robotics/automation and electronics/IoT. Both of these industries have made huge progress in recent years to develop novel technologies and machinery, which will in turn allow more traditional, often heavier industries to become smarter and more efficient under Industry 4.0.
The electronics industry is utilizing some advanced ceramic properties to develop electronic components and substrates which are thermally and mechanically more robust, allowing them to be used in more extreme environments. Robotics were introduced into high-volume automated production lines many years ago.
Wear-resistant silicon nitride ceramic components. Image Credit: International Syalons
However, as all manufacturers look to improve productivity through process efficiency, advanced ceramic components enable machinery and robotic systems to work faster, more precisely, and in more challenging environments than ever before. High-strength ceramic bearings, wear-resistant silicon nitride bushes, silicon carbide guides, and high-temperature resistance zirconia pins are examples where ceramics have replaced traditional metal components, resulting in improved efficiency, reduced waste, and dramatically reduced machine maintenance and downtime.
How important are trade shows like advanced materials for promoting communication and innovation in the materials industry?
Exhibitions and conferences are extremely important. For niche, often unknown, materials such as ours, it is far better to explain in person how the materials are manufactured, and how this and the constituent materials affect the final properties. Often, once an engineer has seen and handled our materials, they can more easily envisage ways of incorporating them into their systems and begin to solve some of the process challenges they face. What’s most important about events such as this, is to attract researchers, engineers, and scientists from other industries so they can learn about the strengths and limitations of technical ceramics.
What is next for International Syalons?
In 2019 and 2020 we expanded our factory into the adjacent building, tripling our floor space. This is allowing us to really grow every single department, and invest in as much new equipment as possible. One area we are focusing on is high-precision ground components with complex geometries, which would enable us to develop components for some very challenging applications.
Another strong area of development has been additive manufacturing. We've got really good partnerships within the industry, and we're involved with some really, really good projects for 3D printing. I think 3D-printed silicon nitride is probably one of the most difficult materials to achieve, but we've had some incredible results and produced some fantastic components.
About Ben Melrose
Ben Melrose is Technical Director at International Syalons (Newcastle) Ltd, having joined the company in 2012 as a Development Engineer and was appointed to the Board of Directors in 2019. After studying Engineering of Materials (MRes) at University of Birmingham Ben has focussed much of his attention working to develop new sialon-based advanced ceramic materials and ceramic fabrication techniques alongside customers and research partners, and is now responsible for all aspects of R&D and quality assurance at International Syalons.
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