First-ever flexible ceramic heat shield material
By Darren Quick
July 16, 2009
Take note of the name ZircoFlex, because it will most likely, in our not-so-humble opinion, immediately become part of the lexicon and bag of tricks of every automotive, marine, aerospace and industrial manufacturer, fabricator, constructor, inventor and race engineer on the planet. We've previously written about Zircotec’s plasma sprayed ThermoHold coatings, which when applied to the surface of metallic and composite components can reduce surface temperatures by up to 33 percent. Until now, the process has had two major limitations being the need to treat parts directly using 14000ºK plasma sprays and the natural brittleness of ceramic coatings which has limited their use up to rigid substrates. Patent-pending ZircoFlex™ is a flexible ceramic heat shield material that will be available in a roll, offering a low-cost, easy-to-apply solution to the thermal protection of vital engine components. The product is set to revolutionise the use of ceramic materials for heat protection in a wide range of applications.
The application of ceramic coatings to metallic and composite components traditionally uses plasma spraying. This results in coatings that are applied to the material surface in a lightweight layer and can reduce surface temperatures by up to 33 percent, but the process entails treating parts directly using 14000ºK plasma sprays.
After more than five years of research Zircotec has developed a new process in which the ceramic material is sprayed in the form of thousands of individual ‘platelets’ on the surface of aluminum foil. While the platelets are close-packed to provide comprehensive heat protection, this structure allows the foil to be bent and manipulated to suit different shapes. It can even be folded tightly through 180 degrees without damaging the thermal barrier.
For the first time the new product, which Zircotec has dubbed ZircoFlex, will allow ceramic coatings to be installed in-line to parts and assemblies during manufacture, even in high volume applications, without disrupting production flow. And the advantages aren’t limited to production lines. The potential in maintenance and aftermarket applications is huge too since parts can now be upgraded without needing to dismantle or decommission equipment.
Zircotec expects early applications for ZircoFlex to come from the automotive industry, where the foil can be used to protect sensitive components from heat in increasingly crowded engine bays. Zircotec also reports considerable interest from the motorsport sector where the foil looks set to attract demand as a rapid solution to thermal protection problems.
ZircoFlex is thin and lightweight at only 0.25mm thick and weighing just 460g/m2. It will come on a roll and can be cut and installed by hand or machine. It is also easily fixed in place using mechanical fasteners or high temperature adhesives, allowing it to be integrated directly into conventional production or maintenance operations. It is suitable for applications with temperatures up to 500oC, but ZircoTec don’t recommend using it in direct contact with high performance exhaust manifolds or headers.
Zircotec is continuing its research into flexible ceramic coatings and has plans to produce an expanded range of ZircoFlex foils using a range of alternative substrates.
For the moment though, ZircoFlex can be purchased online at a unit price of UKP69.70 + VAT per 58cm x 90cm sheet.