Zirconia Advanced Ceramics - Properties, Materials and Applications of ZrO2 by Precision Ceramics

Precision Ceramics, a division of McGeoch Technology, is a company dedicated to the engineering of technical ceramics. From procurement and supply through to technical design and specialist machining, we offer a complete service.

Our reputation for quality and service is truly international with specialist ceramic components engineered by Precision Ceramics finding their way into an ever-widening array of worldwide applications in industries as diverse as aerospace, opto-electronics and nuclear power.

In both new applications and in areas where technical ceramics are already being used, Precision Ceramics has the necessary expertise and in-depth knowledge to quickly find the best way forward for any potential application from prototypes through to full-scale production of components. And once fully up and running, we can easily take the process one stage further by offering expert advice in the engineering of more demanding materials.

The company operates to the very highest quality standards and holds BS5750 Part 1, ISO9000 and BASEEFA approval.

What are Ceramics?

Ceramics as a materials classification are inherently very strong in compression. This is due to the type of bonding which holds the atoms together being either covalent or ionic or a combination therein. The direct consequence of this structure gives ‘ceramic’ materials very high melting points and relatively low electrical conductivity together with other key benefits.

Fracture Toughness of Ceramics

Whereas in metal systems there are slip planes where crystal lattices can be moved which give malleability and ductility, ceramics reach a limit and fail catastrophically. The limit at which they fail is generally noted as the modulus of rupture (MOR) which is a statistical statement based on many results. Zirconia unlike many ceramics has a very high fracture toughness value which enables it to be functionally used without the fear of failure. It also has a thermal expansion co-efficient similar to that of steel which enables composite systems of metal and ceramic to be utilised to enable massive performance gains.

Features of Zirconia

Zirconia is proving an exciting novel material which is gaining in popularity due to its specific key advantages over other more traditional ceramics. It does not have the malleability of metals but does have significantly high fracture toughness - K1c value. This is due to additions being made to zirconia which ‘toughen’ the material.The primary function of the additive is to stabilise the tetragonal phase. If done correctly this high temperature phase becomes metastable at room temperature.

Increasing Fracture Toughness in Zirconia

Metastable is where a given phase within the material is present and stable under certain conditions. When the conditions change it becomes energetically favourable for the crystal structure to change. Indeed it is the very nature of this phase being metastable that causes the increase in fracture toughness.

When the tetragonal phase reverts to monoclinic it does so under a martensitic type transformation. This gives an associated volume change of between positive 3% and 5%. This volume expansion tends to close the crack, thus relieving stresses at the tip. This in turn is what causes the increase in K1c value.

Indeed it is this transformation behaviour which gives this material the interesting advantages for the modern engineering world.

Most Common Zironia Systems

There are four zirconia systems that as engineers we are interested in:

  • CSZ full stabliised cubic system 8% mol
  • TZP Tetragonal Zirconia Polycrystal (2-4mol% Yytria)
  • PSV partially stabilised zirconia. Plasma coatings 5-6mol%
  • Approx 15 wt% far more than CSV used for Ion carriers in fuel cell systems

Zirconia Manufacturing

Small batch production of zirconia does depend on the geometry of the component. The general processing route would be to either.

  • Precision grind a general blank of zirconia
  • Laser cut a zirconia substrate - click here for further information
  • Injection moulding

For higher quantities, zirconia lends itself to the injection moulding process rather well. Expensive tooling is required but a high degree of dimensional accuracy can be achieved. Laser cutting zirconia is also a relatively straight forward process. The limits on thickness that a laser can go through is typically 2mm to 3mm. Zirconia in this form is widely used throughout the electronics industry.

Application of Zirconia in the Oil and Gas Industry

As the material, zirconia is wear resistant and inert and can therefore be utilised in areas where traditional metallic systems would not be able to function. In sub-sea systems where metallic systems would corrode, zirconia excels.

The Use of Zirconia in Production of Crucibles

Zirconia is used as an oxygen sensor due to the free charge carriers within the structure. Specific grades of zirconia can become electrically conducting at high temperatures due to the energy imputed into the material which liberates the charge carriers to carry the current.

Zirconia has great wear resistance, which combined with the high fracture toughness properties makes it an ideal material for pumps.

General Engineering Components Made from Zirconia

As zirconia is so hard, it is the perfect material from which to manufacture knives and blades - cutting edges remain sharp for much longer.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Precision Ceramics.

For more information on this source, please visit Precision Ceramics.

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