Since the earliest times, ceramics have brought people together. But rather than for dining, engineered ceramics and glass bring people together through the components, devices and systems that contain this unique family of materials. Ceramic and glass materials are used in many building products, including bricks, cement, and windows, and in many common and uncommon engineered products and systems, including mobile phones, sensors, cars, airplanes, and more.
The American Ceramic Society (ACerS) is the leading international professional society for manufacturers and professionals in the engineered ceramics and glass industries. This innovative technical society’s network of about 11,000 members includes manufacturers, marketing agents, managers, consultants, researchers, engineers and students. The Society offers membership programs customized to the needs of the member group, whether it’s someone new to the field, an established professional, a student, or a company.
While its name indicates its origins in the American industry, the Society serves all countries with a ceramic or glass industry – about 60 – on every continent except Antarctica. In fact, more than thirty-nine percent of its estimated eleven thousand members reside abroad in countries like Canada, Japan, Germany, South Korea, China, the United Kingdom, and many of the European Union countries. An even larger percentage of members are employed by multinational groups in the field.
It also collaborates with other international technical societies on conferences and expositions. “Because we are a mission-based organization, our goal is to serve the entire ceramic and glass materials community,” says Mark Mecklenborg, Executive Director. To this end, the Society recently introduced a new quarterly magazine: Ceramic and Glass Manufacturing. This is published as an insert alongside its American Ceramic Society Bulletin membership magazine, now publishing its 99th volume. Both magazines rely on an advisory group of industry experts.
The goal of the new magazine is to look at trends within the industry and to provide manufacturers with an overview of the latest industry news, exposition coverage, and more. It also aims to provide up-to-date information on manufacturing solutions that are relevant to its members and industry partners. “Everything a manufacturer does is urgent. Therefore they need solutions, today,” says Eileen De Guire, Director of Technical Content and Communications. She is also editor of ACerS’ Bulletin.
The magazine’s April issue will be providing a guide on how smaller manufacturers can partner with larger companies to put themselves in a strategic position for outsourcing. The issue will provide a clear how-to for all small operators, including start-ups in search of growth and opportunities, to expand. Future issues will look at topics like workforce development and using standards to achieve quality goals.
This proactive organization offers members an impressive portfolio of resources. Peer-reviewed journals, magazines, books, and reference resources on industry subjects all serve to promote and develop the field and its future. “Besides our publishing activities, bringing people together at conferences is very important to our members. We hold between ten and twelve conferences annually where scientists and engineers share their latest findings and have the opportunity to network with their peers,” says Mecklenborg. In addition, the Society maintains eleven special-interest divisions, and most of the Society’s conferences are organized by these divisions to address their particular interests.
Each of these divisions handles a separate subcategory of research and development within the ceramics and glass industry. These divisions are Art, Archaeology and Conservation Science, Basic Science, Bioceramics, Cements, Electronics, Energy Materials and Systems, Engineering Ceramics, Glass and Optical Materials, Manufacturing, Refractory Ceramics, and Structural Clay Products.
Each of these divisions is led by an executive committee of four expert volunteers and varies in size, but all have academics and professionals who specialize in the specific field and who volunteer their time to the Society. “Of course, the Society’s staff is involved in running and organizing the meetings, but we rely very much on the volunteers and the structures that they create in the divisions,” says Mecklenborg. In this way, each division is involved in conferences that focus on that specific field.
The Society describes industrial ceramics and glass as an ‘enabling’ industry that provides parts and important elements of greater fabrications. A great example is blast furnaces which are based on ceramic refractory bricks. Without these furnaces, we would not have things as ordinary as screws, chair frames, cars, and even everyday household appliances. Strange as it may sound to the uninitiated, even jet engines contain ceramic components in the form of thermal barrier coatings that reduce emissions and increase fuel savings.
Even smartphones would not be the same without the employing technical ceramics. These telephones contain thousands of multilayer ceramic capacitors (MLCC), and ceramic and glass plates, each of which performs a particular function depending on the phone’s design.
In the 1970s, ceramic hip replacement technology emerged in central Europe. Now that other companies are manufacturing their own version of the ceramic implants, Americans in need of hip replacements and other implants also have the option. Another interesting medical material that has been under development for decades is bioactive glass.
Bioactive glass is the latest material to change how doctors are able to think about helping the body heal and repair. Bioactive glass is particularly helpful for stimulating healing and aiding the body in repairing itself. For example, Mo-Sci Corp. (Rolla, Mo) produces a highly-specialized fibrous glass resembling cotton candy for healing intractable wounds in diabetics.
The applications of these materials are vast. From significantly reducing exhaust emissions to revolutionizing telecommunications, ceramics and glass can be found nearly everywhere in modern technology. The advances made in glass and ceramic research also allow us to probe ever further into outer space thanks to telescope super-lenses and mirrors, and, famously, the space shuttle insulation tiles. And the future holds even more possibilities as ceramic signal filters will ultimately make autonomous cars a reality.
The American Ceramic Society has a long and proud history of pushing industry boundaries. It was established in 1898 in Pittsburgh by a group of brick makers who combined forces to better harness scientific research to improve manufacturing outcomes for products made with different clay compositions. The industry has grown tremendously since that time, and the Society has supported its development throughout.
The Society is led by member volunteers who are passionate about the future advancements that ceramics and glass can provide for mankind. These industry experts find their main strength as a group and as problem solvers is their diverse breadth of expertise. While the Society is volunteer-led, they are supported by a professional staff of about 25. To ensure that the focus stays on the needs of the industry and the ceramics and glass research community, the Society’s Board of Directors works with the Executive Director to establish prioritized goals every year.
The Society also offers online training for professionals who are new to the industry or who may need a brush-up on particular topics. “We find that our members knowingly hire smart people, but not necessarily trained people,” says De Guire. These online courses provide newcomers with the basic understanding they need to operate within the industry.
With the national call for skilled workers, the Society endeavors to engage students in middle school through college on the importance and benefits of ensuring a robust ceramics and glass industry to develop important new technology. The result of these efforts culminated in the 2015 establishment of the Ceramic and Glass Industry Foundation (CGIF) whose mission is to recruit, grow, and train a qualified workforce for the industry.
The Foundation provides schools with materials science classroom kits targeting middle and high schools, as well as winter workshops for both undergraduates and graduates. It also works tirelessly to provide middle and high school learners with the tools they need to become better acquainted with materials science and engineering through ceramics and glass.
“Besides degreed scientists and engineers, there is a huge need for technician-level staff to work in production facilities, quality control labs, and research and development labs,” says Mecklenborg. The Society is helping to set up a two-year ceramic engineering technology associate’s degree program partnership with the Edward Orton Foundation and the Central Ohio Technical College in Newark, Ohio, tentatively in autumn 2020 pending administrative approvals.
It is also launching the brand new Ceramic Manufacturing Solutions Conference collocated with the Ceramics Expo in Cleveland, Ohio, and will take place on May 6-7, this year. The conference is set to be a fantastic opportunity for manufacturers to get together to network and discuss industry challenges while gaining more knowledge on the latest available equipment, materials, and services available. “It really is an opportunity to take a deep dive into some of the thornier issues that you run into when you’re manufacturing ceramics,” says De Guire.
Alongside the development of new materials, industry manufacturers demand control systems and sensors that resist the hot manufacturing process conditions. At the same time, regulatory and market-driven needs for better control of energy consumption, crystalline silica dust, engine emissions, and end-of-life product disposal also drive research and development efforts. “The power of artificial intelligence and machine learning for data-driven discovery opens up exciting new compositions and applications for ceramic and glass materials,” says Mecklenborg.
The industry’s growth has been strong. It was reported in 2016 that the market was quickly approaching the $1 trillion revenue mark and is estimated to experience even further growth in the next few years. The technical glass market was projected in 2016 to have a compound annual growth of 6.1 percent over the next five years, growing from $20.6 billion.
Adapting to the changes in any industry takes tremendous patience and resources – a process for which American Ceramic Society is well-equipped. “We’d like to encourage more young people to see the opportunity of joining our industry. [There are great] career opportunities for people who enjoy working with interesting and unusual materials to solve important problems!” says Mecklenborg. The Society will be working diligently toward expanding its international presence to achieve this goal and educate the industry.