Ceramics are inorganic non-metallic materials. Ceramic engineering refers to the processing and fabrication of components / devices / machines of ceramics for technological applications. There are two types of ceramic products:
Traditional: Products such as bricks, pottery, porcelain, sanitary ware, cement, concrete, refractories (materials which can withstand very high temperatures) and glasses of various kinds
Advanced ceramics: These are manufactured from highly purified materials which have controlled properties. Some examples are: high quality insulators and substrates for integrated circuit technology, memory cores in computers, over voltage protection devices (varistors), gas and humidity sensors, etc. Advanced ceramics can be classified depending on their applications as per their specific physical/chemical properties
Apart from manufacturing industries such as steel plants, glass and cement and aluminium industries, ceramic engineers may find openings in electronics, communications, optics, transportation, medicine, energy conversion and pollution control, aerospace, and the construction sector.
What do they do?
Don’t think only of your gorgeous demitasse or, your washbasin and such common wares. For, ceramic engineering is much more than that — from lenses and artificial bones for humans to heat shields of rockets. This is where science and technology blends with art and craft.
And that’s a reason one youngster chose it as his calling. Says a ceramic engineer (who doesn’t wish to be named) working in a public sector steel-making company, “Along with technical things I had an inclination towards art and craft also. Ceramic engineering would satiate my urge for both.”
And it’s encouraging that this field of engineering finds applications in many sectors. The engineer adds, “Ceramic engineering deals with inorganic, non-metallic materials and some of them are very critical — such as fibre optic materials which play an important role in the telecommunications industry.
“Cell phones would not be possible without the development of electronic ceramics. Ceramic materials are stable at extremely high temperatures and, therefore, used in the protective lining of high temperature vessels like boilers, converters, furnaces, ladles etc.
“They are also compatible with the human body and are used to replace or augment damaged or diseased tissues.”
Employment options for ceramic engineers are diverse, he adds.
Says Prof Om Parkash, head, department of ceramic engineering, Banaras Hindu University, “There is hardly any branch of engineering which does not make use of these advanced ceramic materials.
“Any electronic device such as television, radio, tape recorders, computers, mobile phones use hundreds of components made from these. There are a large number of applications in the military, air force and navy which make use of devices / components, such as radar, in submarine, aircraft and space shuttles, made from these high-tech ceramics.
“The success of all other industries, such as metals and steels, automobiles, communications, depends on the satisfactory performance of ceramic components.”
Other areas where ceramic engineers play a role are conventional sectors developing value-added or innovative products.
Prof Parkash adds that these industries, such as tiles and glass manufacturers, “have R&D units for making products that serve multiple purposes. For example, tiles for the purpose of decoration are being developed, and these also act as sensors for various applications.”
So, what does it take to get there? Prof Parkash says, “A ceramic engineer must have a good background in basic sciences (physics, chemistry, maths and biology) coupled with an excellent experimental and design skills.
“A sound knowledge of computers helps in modelling a design before actual fabrication/construction is taken up.”
“Ceramic engineers must be able to solve problems and communicate their ideas to others. They should have skills in science and mathematics,” says the engineer from the public-sector steel-maker. “Apart from a passion for engineering in general, an improved understanding of the specific ceramics materials is needed to become a good ceramics engineer.” And very importantly, this creative endeavour requires a hands-on approach.
. Strong grounding in basic sciences
. Be innovative
. Analytical skills
. Hands-on approach
. Problem-solving attitude
. Communications skills
How do I get there?
Take science at the plus-two level. And then pursue a bachelor’s in ceramic engineering, entry to which is usually through a competitive test. A Master’s and doctorate is required for brighter career prospects.