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Not just china

From conventional sectors like steel and cement to technology-driven industries like electronics and communications, ceramic engineers lend their expertise to all, writes Rahat Bano

education Updated: Jul 28, 2010 12:07 IST
Rahat Bano

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.

What's it about?
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

Clock Work
The average day of a ceramic engineer (in an R&D organisation):
8.30 am: Plan the experimental and product development activity for the day
9.30 am: Start processing activities on shop floor, testing activity in lab and process improvement activities in ceramic units
1.30 pm: Lunch
2 pm: Consult library
3 pm: Record data on experiments, quality improvement and R&D work
4 pm: Analyse results
6 pm: Leave office for the day

The Payoff
BTechs/MTechs earn between Rs 3 lakh to Rs 9 lakh a year, in India. Salaries depend on your education and experience, the location and the type of job

Skills
. Strong grounding in basic sciences
. Be innovative
. Analytical skills
. Hands-on approach
. Team-spirit
. 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

Institutes & urls
.
Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi
www.bhu.ac.in
. National Institute of Technology, Rourkela,
www.nitrkl.ac.in
. Government College of Engineering and Ceramic Technology, Kolkata
www.gcect.ac.in
. Anna University
www.annauniv.edu
. PDA College of Engineering, Gulbarga (Karnataka)
http://pda.hkesociety.org

Pros & cons


.

A constructive endeavour


.

Those in production may have to spend more time at production or construction sites, and work overtime or in rotating shifts


.

Sales engineers need to travel a lot


.

Initially, low paying as compared to engineers from certain other branches

Be ready to work like a potter

A senior ceramic engineer talks about his field of work

At CGCRI, what do ceramic engineers do? Can you tell us about your major R&D projects and achievements at CGCRI?
Ceramic engineers work in laboratory, pilot scale product-making activity and R&D activities.
The main objective of CGCRI, Khurja Centre, is to work for the development of ceramic industries.

Our team is working on the following projects:
. Chemical and physical analysis of raw materials and products
. Testing of wares for quality
. Trouble shooting
. Quality improvement
. Process improvement
. Rejections analysis
. Knowledge enhancement
. Product design development
. Formulations development
. Development of crystalline glazes
. Development and setting up of a gas-fired roller hearth kiln at CGCRI-KC
. Energy efficiency improvement in manufacturing processes
. Energy saving through use of roller head jigger in fabricating pottery wares
. Flue gas analysis in the oil/gas fired kilns of Khurja
. Reducing kiln car mass through better design to improve fuel efficiency
. Ambient air quality monitoring at Khurja
. Development of fast firing cycle for stoneware in roller hearth kilns
. Utilisation of waste Ca(OH)2 in ceramic industries
. Manufacturing of bone china wares
. Manufacturing of decorative stone wares
. Glass beads making
. Terracotta products

What are the career prospects of ceramic engineers in India, especially in the R&D space?
Career prospects for ceramic engineers in India are quite bright in the field of R&D, for example, in nuclear ceramics, dental ceramics, electronic ceramics, aerospace ceramics, wear-resistant ceramics, glass, ferrites and so on.

What specialisations in ceramic engineering are more in demand or required in the country today?
Rating as per the demand is as given below:
. Refractory
. Wall and floor tiles
. High- and low-tension insulators
. Glass
. Cement
. Whiteware
. Ferrites
. Electronic ceramics
. Advance ceramics

According to you, what are the most important qualities and traits that an aspirant should develop to build a successful career in the field of ceramic engineering?
Be ready to work like a potter — working at the potter’s wheel.

What are the pluses and minuses of this profession?
Engineers who have specialised in ceramics have the opportunity to serve the country through their participation in industrial development, development of nuclear power sector and of the atomic energy sector, infrastructure development and energy efficiency improvements of the country.

Ceramic engineers are not paid well in the beginning of their careers like engineers in the software sector. Secondly, ceramic engineers do not have many openings in the government sector and in the Indian Engineering Services.

Dr LK Sharma Interviewed by Rahat Bano

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