Tailor Made crucible : 3D printing in the service of quality test

The Nanoe quality policy : a demanding field

Nanoe provides ceramic powders for cutting edge industries such as aerospace, luxury or biomedical.

Thus, in order to insure the quality and the homogeneity of ceramic powders, multiple quality control test are exacted. For each order, Nanoe’s quality service samples powder regularly during the batch (one sample every 80kg). Those samples are sintered to obtain press pellet that can be easily tested.

Standard stainless steel blades : a risk of metallic pollution on your products

The first step of the quality test is checking the density and the surface condition of the pressed pellet that have previously been numbered.

The second step is checking the quality and the homogeneity of the microstructure. However, a pellet would be too large for the microscope, this is why each pellet is broken up into pieces.  When shattered, a piece of each pellet is placed on a crucible and put in a furnace. Then a thermal etching is operated to increase the contrast between grains and make the microstructure analysis possible.

However, the quality service no longer uses regular alumina crucible but a Zetamix tailor made one, more adapted to their needs.The second step is checking the quality and the homogeneity of the microstructure. However, a pellet would be too large for the microscope, this is why each pellet is broken up into pieces.  When shattered, a piece of each pellet is placed on a crucible and put in a furnace. Then a thermal etching is operated to increase the contrast between grains and make the microstructure analysis possible.

Indeed, for each process, batch size and type of mixer, Nanoe requires a specific blade, and sometimes a few different blades depending on the product. Having a range of on demand blades would be highly appreciated, but too much complex and expensive by traditional processes Moreover, Nanoe synthesizes and produces high purity ceramic powders for industrial companies and metallic pollution are unsuitable. Because ceramics are very abrasive materials, even stainless steel is not resistant enough. Up to now, Nanoe used to change its blades often in order to avoid oxidation of the tools and pollution of the ceramic powders, at the cost of maintenance shutdown and resources. Using a ceramic dispersion blade instead would be relevant, but this product doesn’t exist today on the market. Buying a tailored-made blade would be very expensive and delivering time would take month, especially one made of ceramic. It would trigger the launch a whole new production chain for only a few pieces. Specifically, a tailored made blade just for a simple laboratory high shear mixer was estimated at a cost of 1000€ and a lead time of 6 weeks.

Indeed, not only Nicolas was looking for a compartmentalized crucible capable of withstanding very hard thermal treatment (400°C.h-1 to 1500 °C), but he also wanted that each compartment was numbered into the ceramic.  Thus, Nicolas designed an alumina crucible equipped with 15 numbered compartments.

The advantages provided by this new crucible are undeniable. Unlike regular crucibles, this one neutralizes the risk of mixing up the samples when the crucible is handled. By avoiding any risk of confusion between the pellets, the quality service is improving it’s process and the relevancy of the test. Furthermore, using this crucible is time saving : Nicolas can handle sample more quickly and is liberating from the mental workload of making a mistake.

“ We couldn’t afford to send a batch that doesn’t match with the sample of analysis. It can trigger a loss of confidence from our client and useless disputes. Placing a regular crucible in the furnace without moving the sample can be tricky and Zetamix helped us to solve this problem”  said Camille Exare, QSE manager.

Zetamix vs conventional process

Standard crucibleOn demand productionZetamix
Cost200 €1000 € (1142$)12 € (14$)
Lead Time2 weeks6 weeks1 week
Complexity of PartStandard part only, only a few sizes availableSimple part only, adaptable sizeUnlimited

Finally, Nanoe benefits daily of the advantages of Zetamix technology. By customizing its tools for powder production, Nanoe is improving its processes and is no longer depending on OEMs or tool manufacturers. This allows important resources savings in terms of negotiating time, money and logistics.