CeramTec observes increasing demand for larger piezoelectric ceramic components for sonar applications

Ceramics manufacturer and supplier CeramTec is seeing rising demand for piezoelectric (PZT) ceramic components to fulfill sophisticated underwater acoustic applications.

The company manufactures customized PZT components for both passive and active systems of underwater acoustic sonar applications, with a particular focus on hemispheres, discs, blocks, and tubes. 

“We see increasing demand for larger-sized components which are key to some technically demanding sonar applications,” said Paul Turnbull, Piezoelectric & Dielectric Engineering Manager at CeramTec UK. “This includes discs from 200 mm up to 250 mm diameter, hemispheres above 150 mm, and piezoceramic plates with thickness above 25 mm.

“Our teams in Ruabon and Southampton as well as in Lauf, Germany, have long-standing and specific expertise in this market segment and specific facilities to manufacture large piezoelectric components which achieve lower frequencies for certain sonar applications, which can mean detection at longer distances.”

Developing technical ceramics

CeramTec is a leading developer, manufacturer and supplier of technical ceramics, with a product portfolio numbering more than 10,000. The company’s products have found uses within a wide array of industries, spanning medical engineering, automotive, electronics, energy, and space, to name just a few.

While much of CeramTec’s portfolio isn’t directly related to 3D printing, the firm highlighted the importance of product diversification in the release of its FY 2020 financials, citing several upcoming international 3D printing projects.

This year alone, CeramTec has made a number of 3D printing-related developments, including the launch of its ROCAR 3D printing powder, which supposedly has similar properties to silicon carbide. Alongside this, the firm released its CeramCreator tool to help customers to simplify their process chains and shorten their quotation processes. 

In the summer, CeramTec successfully tested the cooling capabilities of its new e-mobility power semiconductor module developed in partnership with Fraunhofer IISB, and produced a new generation of ceramic sample containers for a space experiment facility on the International Space Station in partnership with Airbus Defence & Space and the European Space Agency

CeramTec's ISS sample containers. Photo via CeramTec.
CeramTec’s ISS sample containers. Photo via CeramTec.

Rising demand for PZT components

Piezoelectricity is the electric charge that accumulates in certain solid materials, like ceramics, in response to applied mechanical stress. The ability of PTZ components and materials to convert a mechanical effect into an electric signal is key to meeting the complex demands and challenges of sophisticated sonar technology applications, such as underwater acoustics. 

For instance, hydrophones and towed arrays require long, thin wall tubes of up to 30 mm length and a wall thickness range from 0.75 mm to more than 2 mm. This specific combination of long and very thin tubes is demanding from a manufacturing perspective, and is a specific area of expertise for CeramTec’s sonar technology team. 

CeramTec deploys its advanced manufacturing capabilities to produce numerous other PTZ components, covering the full ranges of Navy Type I, II, III, VI, and other custom formulations. These developments are based on specific requirements for components, transducers, and assemblies.

Typical applications for the company’s PTZ components induce diver detection arrays, towed array systems for detecting oil and gas deposits, or piezoceramic plates for the manufacture of custom 1-3 composites used in active and passive sonar systems. 

Now, CeramTec is observing an increasing demand for larger-sized components which it sees as being key to a number of technically demanding sonar applications. The firm believes it is well placed to meet this market requirement through its manufacturing facilities in the UK and Germany.

“There’s no one size fits all in this market segment and our customers, with whom we have long-standing relationships, rely on us and our in-house R&D capabilities to deliver solutions that match their specifications,” said Turnball. 

CeramTec manufactures piezoelectric components for sophisticated sonar applications. Image via CeramTec.
CeramTec manufactures piezoelectric components for sophisticated sonar applications. Image via CeramTec.

3D printing PTZ components

Piezoelectric components and materials are receiving increasing interest from the 3D printing sector, due to the potential they hold for a wide array of industries. 

One company at the forefront of this field is Nano Dimension, a leading manufacturer of 3D printers for additively manufactured electronics (AMEs), whose AME development process is based on piezolectric 3D printing.

Elsewhere, researchers from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University developed a method to 3D print piezoelectric materials capable of converting mechanical energy into electric current. These piezoelectric materials could then be used as transducers and sensors that responded to pressure, vibrations, and impacts via electric signals. 

Most recently, scientists from Jeonbuk National University 3D printed novel wearable self-powered sensors that could harvest the piezoelectric energy generated by human movement. When built into an array, the sensors could use this charge to detect pressure inputs and convert them into signals.

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Featured image shows CeramTec manufactures piezoelectric components for sophisticated sonar applications. Image via CeramTec.