NIST SPECIAL PUBLICATION 950-1
Economic Assessment Office
Advanced Technology Program
Gaithersburg, Maryland 20899
William F. Long
Business Performance Research Associates, Inc.
Bethesda, Maryland 20814
CHAPTER 1 - Overview of Completed Projects
of the Projects
Timeline of Expected ATP Project
Activities and Impacts
Gains in Technical Knowledge
Dissemination of New Knowledge
Commercialization of the New Technology
Broad-Based Economic Benefits
CHAPTER 2 - Biotechnology
Molecular Simulations, Inc.
Thermo Trilogy Corporation
Tissue Engineering, Inc.
CHAPTER 3 - Chemicals and Chemical Processing
CHAPTER 4 - Discrete Manufacturing
Body Consortium (Joint Venture)
HelpMate Robotics, Inc.
PreAmp Consortium (Joint Venture)
Saginaw Machine Systems, Inc.
CHAPTER 5 - Electronics
Cree Research, Inc.
Diamond Semiconductor Group, LLC
FSI International, Inc.
Hampshire Instruments, Inc. (Joint Venture)
Illinois Superconductor Corporation
Light Age, Inc.
Lucent Technologies, Inc.
Multi-Film Venture (Joint Venture)
Nonvolatile Electronics, Inc.
Thomas Electronics, Inc.
CHAPTER 6 - Energy and Environment
Armstrong World Industries, Inc.
E.I. duPont de Nemours & Company
Michigan Molecular Institute
CHAPTER 7 - Information, Computers, and Communications
Communication Intelligence Corporation #2
Engineering Animation, Inc.
ETOM Technologies, Inc.
Mathematical Technologies, Inc.
Torrent Systems, Inc.
CHAPTER 8 - Materials
A: Development of New Knowledge and Early Commercial Products
B: Terminated Projects
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A Process for Making Ceramic Parts
|Many types of industrial
and commercial equipment contain parts that revolve at very
high speeds, under great stress and in extreme heat. Jet engines,
power generation turbines and automobile engines are a few examples.
In the past, metal has been accepted as the only material for
making such parts.
A 16-blade silicon nitride turbine
wheel for use in small turbogenerators.
Safe, Low-Cost Fabrication
of High-Performance Ceramic Parts
With the recent development of high-performance
structural ceramic materials, this ATP project with AlliedSignal
asked whether it was possible to develop a process for fabricating
ceramic parts inexpensively enough to allow them to be substituted
for metal parts, thereby significantly improving equipment performance
Ceramic substitutes for metal have
performed well in certain critical situations. Space flight is one.
Ceramic tile coverings on spacecraft form heat shields that protect
astronauts re-entering earth atmosphere. Atmospheric friction heats
the tiles to a fiery glow. But the tiles stay in place and dissipate
enough heat for safe re-entry. Metal surfaces would melt under these
circumstances, with disastrous results.
Cost and Safety Issues
Despite such performance advantages,
the application of advanced ceramics has been held back by the high
cost of fabrication. Whereas metal can be melt-processed or plastically
deformed using molding, extruding, stamping or other standard metalworking
techniques, many ceramics cannot be processed by these methods.
Ceramic parts must be made by forming ceramic powder into a desired
shape at room temperature and then "reacting" the powder compact
at various temperatures to densify it. This process is much more
limited in the shapes it can achieve than melt-processing or plastic
An automated gelcasting machine capable
of forming 10,000 ceramic turbine wheels per year.
This ATP project offered a novel approach
to ceramics production via a relatively new process called gelcasting,
a technology developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. In gelcasting,
powdered ceramic precursors are mixed with a polymer precursor (monomer)
and solvent (usually water) to make a slurry that is poured into
a mold. The gel is then polymerized, locking the ceramic powder
in a polymer matrix. The solvent is removed, and the part is heated
to burn out the polymer. At this point, if necessary, the "green"
part can be machined to some degree. Finally, the part is fired
to produce the ceramic. The process is capable of making very complex
parts such as turbine wheels. Some shapes made with this technique
cannot be made any other way.
Near-net-shape turbine wheels for
use in commercial or military jet engine starters.
A major drawback to the original gelcasting
technology was its reliance on acrylamide as the gelling additive.
Acrylamide is highly sensitive to oxygen, which inhibits polymerization.
So the process must be done in an inert environment, which raises
the cost. Acrylamide gel is also very difficult to remove if an
inert environment is used, raising costs even more. Most important,
however, acrylamide is a cumulative neurotoxin, and safety concerns
had prevented the technology's widespread use.
AlliedSignal's innovation in this ATP
project was to develop a low-cost, nontoxic alternative that retains
acrylamide's excellent process characteristics. During the project,
AlliedSignal researchers developed and demonstrated a novel near-net-shape
(requiring almost no machining) process for making high-performance
ceramic parts for automobile and aircraft engines. In addition,
the new gelcasting process has potential applications in energy,
chemicals, aerospace, electronics, advanced materials and telecommunications.
Development of the technology is continuing.
In 1995, under the "Partnership to Productionize and Commercialize
a Manufacturing Process for Silicon Nitride Turbomachinery Components,"
AlliedSignal began receiving funds from the Defense Advanced Research
Projects Agency for work that grew directly out of the ATP-funded
gelcasting project. The company received additional funding for
this effort from the Department of Energy in 1997, and it has made
substantial progress toward a commercially viable manufacturing
process. Marketable products have yet to be sold. But commercial
production is expected to begin in the very near future, with annual
sales projected to be several million dollars.
AlliedSignal has constructed a new
plant for manufacturing ceramics parts, including those made with
the gelcasting technology. Since the close of the ATP project in
June 1995, the company has invested $3 million to further develop
the technology for particular commercial applications. In addition,
based explicitly on the successful completion of the ATP project,
it received funding from the Department of Energy and the Defense
Advanced Research Projects Agency to advance gelcasting technology
Cost Reductions and
Users of vehicles and other equipment
using gelcast ceramic parts instead of metal ones will benefit from
cost reduction and improved performance - in the case of some applications,
to a considerable degree. Since Oak Ridge National Laboratory holds
the underlying intellectual property for gelcasting, additional
spillover benefits are likely to accrue. As a national laboratory,
Oak Ridge offers its technologies to the public, and other companies
are likely to realize considerable spillover benefits from the AlliedSignal/ATP-funded
gelcasting technology. Oak Ridge has already licensed gelcasting
technology to two other U.S. companies - a magnetic ferrite manufacturer
and a small manufacturer of ceramics for automotive and fuel cell
applications - and is working with a number of other companies evaluating
Future benefits are also expected to
come from applications of the new gelcasting process in a number
of sectors, including large aircraft engine parts. In addition,
there may be applications in small parts for jet engines, small
turbine generators for hybrid electric/fossil fuel cars and auxiliary
power systems for aircraft.
by Five Years
Because of its success in developing
the new gelcasting technology, AlliedSignal has also succeeded in
developing the manufacturing technology and component fabrication
projects that allow commercialization to progress. The company says
that without the ATP funds, it would have needed another five years
to reach this stage of development. And it would have been that
much further behind its major competitor, Kyocera of Japan. Instead,
AlliedSignal believes that with the help of the ATP funds, it has
now pulled even with Kyocera in most applications and is able to
make superior-quality products in several areas.
Another clear benefit made possible
by the ATP grant was the establishment of a technology-development
relationship between AlliedSignal and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Relations have continued through a scientific exchange agreement
for an Oak Ridge scientist who co-invented the original gelcasting
technology to work at AlliedSignal for two years.
To develop a low-cost, near-net-shape gelcasting process for
making structural ceramics in a safer, less-costly way than
conventional gelcasting based on acrylamide, a cumulative neurotoxin.
Successful development of this process would open the door to
commercial gelcasting production of these high-performance ceramics.
Duration: 7/1/1992 - 6/30/1995
ATP number: 91-01-0187
FUNDING (in thousands)::
AlliedSignal achieved its R&D goal. The company also:
- presented the new technology
at several professional conferences;
- invested after the ATP project
another $3 million of its own money on additional gelcasting
R&D aimed at the development and installation in 1998
of an automated gelcasting system that can fabricate ceramic
automotive turbogenerator wheels at a rate of 10,000 per
- received funding from the
Department of Energy and the Defense Advanced Research Projects
Agency to further advance gelcasting technology, with the
specific goal of establishing viable manufacturing processes.
Commercialization is in progress, and the first gelcast parts
made with the new technology are expected to reach the market
very soon. Opportunities exist for commercialization in a
variety of fields.
The company is making excellent progress toward its commercialization
goals and is expected to start producing gelcast parts in large
volume in the near future. Users of vehicles or equipment made
with gelcast ceramic parts will benefit from lower cost and
better performance, with potentially huge benefits accruing
in areas like auto engines, commercial aircraft and industrial
applications such as stationary power generation.
Contact: John Pollinger
AlliedSignal, Inc., Ceramic Components
(formerly Garrett Ceramic Components Division, AlliedSignal
2525 W. 190th St.
Torrance, CA 90504
Phone: (310) 512-5654
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
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Date created: March
April 12, 2005