The Science of Microwave Sintering

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ceramic-industry-ride-the-waveOur microSinterWave continuous oven technology was featured in a 2008 article in Ceramic Industry Magazine. The article indicated that high temperature microwave sintering can be faster, greener and cheaper than conventional heating technologies, and that in addition to substantial economic advantages of faster processing times and less energy usage, the final products have comparable or even better mechanical properties than those which are traditionally heated.

The difference between an industrial microwave and a cooking-type home microwave is all about the temperatures involved, and the ability of consumer and even commercial kitchen microwave components to withstand temperatures above those produced by traditional kitchen ovens (about 500 degrees fahrenheit). With the new sophisticated breed of high temperature furnaces such as the microSinterWave line of products, industrial components can handle heat as high as 1600 degrees centigrade (3000 degrees fahrenheit).

The report indicated that many companies are exploring the use of microwaves to sinter their parts because of their "green" nature. For most applications, microwave furnaces focus their energy directly on the parts to be sintered, not on the atmostphere and the surrounding walls. Energy-efficient microwave furnaces produce a significantly smaller carbon footprint compared to electric- or gas-powered air chamber furnaces, producing and less pollutants and reducing the overall cost and carbon-footprint of each finished product that is sintered in these ovens.

Microwave energy operates differently on different types of matierals. Zirconia, for instance, does not couple with microwave energy at room temperature, so other companies have employed either microwave assisted technology or a hybrid design, where air-chamber heating is used first, followed by full microwave finishing. With our smaller tabletop microSinterWave ovens, we use low-tempature microwave energy to heat up susceptors embedded in the crucible which accelerates the heating at lower temperatures, thus kickstarting the zirconia to a higher temperature where it becomes more susceptable and can bond directly with the microwave energy. While hybrid designs have been used to cut processing times and energy costs by 50%, our 100% microwave solution is significantly faster and greener, resulting in 70-90% quicker processing times and 80% energy savings, compared to traditional furnaces.

Using a microwave for sintering can also produce improved product quality with finer finished grain sizes, higher density, better corrosion resistance, and superior bending strength. Initially, we are seeing the largest unit application of this technology in bio-ceramics, including dental laboratories which use the technology to sinter Zirconia copings and frameworks, but this technology can also be used to sinter any of the high-temperature ceramics or parts made of "hard metals." Because of the improved matierial properties, quicker production times and lower energy costs, in the past few years, we have seen high temperature microwave technology employed at a large scale in manufacture and finishing of advanced ceramic-carbide wear parts, electro-ceramics, and even moving to new industries, such as metallurgy, material synthesis, and high temperature chemistry applications. We have even seen some pretty amazing work on using microwave sintered capsules to seal in toxic and radioactive materials for waste remediation.

Microwave energy is not only the technology of tomorrow, but at least for the dental lab industry, which can produce massive zirconia production from a single table-top unit, it is also the leading technology of today. With a smaller physical footprint than traditional furnaces and a substantially smaller carbon footprint, microwave furnace technology offers lower costs per unit for zirconia copings and framework, making it a greener and friendlier technology for any company looking to replace their existing equipment or to expand their production.

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