[This post has drawn a lot of attention, and we have updated it with the assistance of Professor Pan] A group of engineers at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom, led by ACerS member Jingzhe Pan, believe they’ve made a critical breakthrough for improving sintering processes. The group describes their new approach as one that “removes trial and error” in the manufacture of ceramics, and achieves significant time and money savings by using new modeling techniques. Pan describes current sintering approaches as being too inefficient:
“Manufacturing advanced ceramics, even in this era of ‘precision’ techniques, is still very much a ‘trial and error’ process . . . [During sintering], materials are essentially re-packed more closely, such that overall volume decreases, whilst the density increases. Ceramics are intrinsically brittle making post-production alterations in dimensions very difficult. Failure to accurately estimate the final dimensions of ceramic parts, therefore, leads to a waste of materials, time and money.”
Pan notes that predicting change in dimension during sintering using the traditional finite element method requires extensive data on the materials being use, but getting this data can be difficult and expensive. He explains to the Bulletin that,
“Before our work, people thought that a ‘constitutive law’ is always needed to predict sintering deformation. The constitutive law is difficult, time consuming and expensive to obtain experimentally because the measurement requires applying force to the sample during sintering. This is why computer modeling has not been widely used by the ceramic industry.”
His group, instead, discovered that the constitutive law is not always necessary.
“We developed a method to use only the densification data – density as function of time – to predict the sintering deformation. Such data can be obtained by free sintering of small samples with no need to apply force. “[Using this data,] our computer software can predict changes in dimensions, even before production begins. This method does not depend on the physical properties of any one ceramic material. Direct comparison between our predictions with experimental measurements independently obtained by Bouvard’s group at Grenoble and Blanchart’s group at Limoges shows that the method works for both high purity alumina and low purity clays. Our method simply uses densification data from the small sample of the material and extrapolates the data, such that it can be applied to larger quantities used in manufacturing. It can thus, be applied to a wide range of ceramics,” he says.
He warns that his method is invalid for pressure assisted sintering, such as sinter forging or hot isostatic pressing. Pan acknowledges that his system is not quite ready for prime time, and the human interfaces needs to be simplified and redesigned before it can be marketed and installed in manufacturing settings. The group is also working on getting the system to apply to a broader range of industrial products.