What Is the Ceramic Industry?

B. Turner

Ceramics is a broad term used to describe natural and synthetic materials with a crystalline structure. Throughout history, ceramics have played an important role in industry and everyday life as they were used to produce art, food storage, and even early currency. The modern ceramic industry continues to thrive, with manufacturers relying on this material to create everything from electronics to building components. The ceramic industry encompasses everything from the small-scale craftsman selling clay pots to the international corporation that supplies a line of semiconductors.

A porcelain coffee cup is a product of the ceramic industry.
A porcelain coffee cup is a product of the ceramic industry.

The ceramic industry dates back thousands of years. In fact, much of modern archeology deals with extracting and studying clay pots. By the 20th century, manufacturers had developed a number of synthetic ceramics that could be used in more advanced and technical applications. In the 21st century, the field of nanotechnology has opened new doors for the ceramic industry, as manufacturers seek materials that can be used in impossibly small-scale applications.

Brake pads can be made of ceramics.
Brake pads can be made of ceramics.

Products within the ceramic industry can be classified as one of four basic types. Household, or white, goods include dishes, pottery, and porcelain toilets or baths. Structural products include those used in the construction industry, such as roof or floor tiles. Refractory lines are more specialized, and consist of things like furnace liners and equipment insulation designed to accommodate extremely high temperatures. Engineered ceramics are more advanced, and include things like ceramic brake pads, dental implants, and semiconductors.

Porcelain toilets are a part of the ceramic industry.
Porcelain toilets are a part of the ceramic industry.

In the early days of the ceramic industry, manufacturers relied on basic earth or clay. They soon advanced to quartz, stone, and porcelain, which offered enhanced durability and strength. Eventually, manufacturers began to develop inorganic substitutes for these natural products. Synthetic and composite materials include silicide and oxide, as well as fiber-reinforced ceramics. These most advanced materials are used in electronics, as well as things like aircraft, satellites, and space shuttles.

Heat-resistant ceramic tiles were used to protect the Space Shuttle's exterior during re-entry.
Heat-resistant ceramic tiles were used to protect the Space Shuttle's exterior during re-entry.

The ceramic industry plays an important role in modern manufacturing, and this role expands with each major improvement in technology. In the early 21st century, a large percentage of electronics and other goods contain some form of ceramic. This material is found in mobile phones, medical equipment, and thousands of other items. Part of the reason manufacturers have embraced ceramics is due to their strength and durability, but also because they are not metallic. This means they can offer many of the advantages of metal without the thermal and electrical current transfer associated with metallic products.

Ceramic roofing shingles are among the ceramic products used by the construction industry.
Ceramic roofing shingles are among the ceramic products used by the construction industry.

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