Ceramics and Coatings

Building the future by pushing the boundaries of extreme environment applications

Space exploration, refractory lining and thermal barrier coatings for high temperature applications, communication – from radio and television to portable mobile devices, everyday dishes, catalytic converters in cars, camera lenses, transducers, filters, sensors, hip replacements or dental applications – imagine the world without ceramics, you certainly can’t. For 30,000 years ceramics have been an integral part and driver of the evolution of humans. Traditionally classified as clay products, silicate glass and cement, todays’ advanced ceramics refer to materials consisting of carbides, pure oxides, nitrides, or non-silicate glasses. Ceramics may also be used in association with metals or polymers to create compounds and composite materials or coatings.

Understand structure and optimize design

Ceramics research is driven by the need for high temperature operation, extreme wear and corrosion resistance, and high strength and machinability. Advanced ceramics enable optimal operation in all of the fields cited above. Achieve the best properties through a precisely controlled well engineered microstructure.

Investigate across length scales - connect structure, chemistry and mechanisms

Understand chemistry, grain size and porosity. Combine these insights with in situ mechanical testing. Investigate thermal, electrical and mechanical properties. Analyze the structure of ceramics at the nanoscale and correlate your findings to the characterization of microstructure, and eventually optimize your design criteria. Advanced electron and X-ray microscopy techniques and multi-modal solutions from ZEISS enable you to gain a better understanding of the complex mechanisms that give rise to the exceptional properties of ceramics at microstructural scales. 

Applications for research on ceramics and coatings range from biomedical implants to laboratory tools

Click on the images or video below to enlarge and learn more about each application.

Biomedical application, 3D printed ceramic lattice for a bone regeneration scaffold. Imaging with ZEISS Xradia 620 Versa. Sample courtesy of Lithoz GmbH.

Additively manufactured ceramic suitable to lay the basis for resource efficient manufacturing methods. Image of the microstructure done with ZEISS Sigma FE-SEM.

Laboratory crucible made of Zirconia, microstructure and porosity imaged with ZEISS Sigma.

From Macro- straight into Microscale Features

Characterize Coatings

What if you could obtain the desired microstructure of ceramics and be able to design flawless parts, simultaneously optimize process parameters and reduce material cost – all of this initiated by understanding failure mechanisms, defect distributions, coat thickness and bond quality in great detail.

Investigate ceramics at scales between millimeters and micrometers. Learn how you can benefit from using ZEISS light microscopes (LM), X-ray microscopes (XRM) and multi-modal software solutions: 

  • Analyze surfaces and their topographies with LM. 
  • Measure or segment layer thickness and grain size with LM and multi-modal software determine the correlation between thickness, porosity and performance using XRM. 
  • Benefit from a convenient assisted workflow, either in automatic or interactive mode including report generation following international standards taking advantage of multi-modal software offering guided workflows. 

Thermal barrier coating with layer thickness measurements performed with ZEISS LM and multi-modal software ZEISS ZEN core.

Thermal barrier coating after non-destructive characterization with a ZEISS XRM, delivering a 3D surface color-rendered image showing internal voids and cracks.

Thermal barrier coating porosity measurement with brightfield contrast.

A polished cross-section of a thermal barrier coating, imaged under polarization contrast with a ZEISS LM.

Get to know the power of material contrast

Dive deeper, from macro- to microscale, and utilize ZEISS X-ray and scanning electron microscopes (XRM, SEM) to: 

  • Get non-destructive 3D characterization and quantitative analysis of microstructural features with XRM 
  • Extract volumetric and quantitative information of key features of interest, such as layer interface, volume percentage, pore morphology, voids and microcracks using XRM. 
  • Find out the distribution of particles and easily correlate that to the structures of e.g., thick film and substrate, or to the structure of the underlying ceramic substrate using back scatter electron (BSE) imaging contrast in SEM.
  • Characterize the material composition using BSE detectors in SEM and the topography of the sample surface using secondary electron (SE) detectors in SEM. 
  • Benefit specifically from the unique capabilities of SE and BSE detection in ZEISS SEMs that are tailored not only for high-resolution and surface sensitivity, but to deliver unique compositional and topographical information. 

Thick film polymer matrix layer with zinc particles on alumina ceramic, imaging done with the BSD4, a BSE detector of a ZEISS FE-SEM (field emission). Using different combinations of the four segments, the distribution of zinc particles can easily be correlated to the structures of thick film and substrate. From left to right: Providing strong materials contrast, ‘Compo’ (composition) shows the distribution of zinc particles. ‘Diff’ (difference) shows the structure of the underlying ceramic substrate by crystal orientation contrast. The topography of the polymer thick film is rendered visible in ‘Topo 1’ for preferentially horizontal and in ‘Topo 2’for preferentially vertical structures. Images courtesy of Kurt-Schwabe-Institut für Mess-und Sensortechnik e.V. (KSI) Meinsberg, DE. 

Going From Several Micrometers to Nanometers

Analyze Grains

Imagine you could understand processing of advanced ceramics, such as sintering better, and improve material performance by achieving a homogeneous microstructure. What if you could avoid human bias and obtain accurate and repeatable results, and automatically generate reports.  

Perform grain analysis fast and efficient by taking advantage of ZEISS LM, SEM and multi-modal, multi-scale software solutions: 

  • Analyze grain size automatically and precisely with the dedicated software modules for both EM and LM images. 
  • Identify peculiar grains that are of critical importance and observe grain growth. 
  • Perform 2D quantitative measurements on grain boundaries and calculate individual grain sizes. 
  • Automatically generate reports, following ASTM E112 or other international standards. 

Ceramics surface imaged with a ZEISS FE-SEM showing grain details of additively manufactured ceramics, ZEISS Sigma. 

Microstructure analysis and image segmentation performed on an SEM image with the software module ZEISS ZEN Grains.

Conductive ceramic sample, titanium carbide dispersed in an alumina (Al2O3) matrix improving the hardness. Morphology and the grain size are important for the mechanical and high temperature properties.

Connecting Micro- and Nanoscale

Study Phase and Composition in Ceramics

Whenever your goal is to investigate phases and chemical compounds in ceramics you need to obtain maximum information on surface topography and composition. Equally important for you is to determine the chemistry accurately. This is why you need information on chemical elements not only qualitatively but also quantitatively enabling you to better understand the effect of processing variables e.g., during sintering.  

Using ZEISS FE-SEMs and analytics like EDS (energy dispersive spectrometer) you will be able to: 

  • Characterize topography at the nanoscale using advanced SEM detectors like the Inlens SE, integral part of ZEISS Gemini electron optics.
  • Derive information on composition, doping, oxidation, phase distribution and sintering optimization using the Inlens EsB (energy selective backscatter) that delivers unique, pure materials contrast.
  • Investigate the chemical elements in your sample using analytics like EDS.

Ceramics surface, material contrast imaged with the Inlens EsB detector of a ZEISS GeminiSEM FE-SEM at 3 kV, applying 1kV beam deceleration with the Tandem decel option. Contrast can be greatly enhanced in BSE imaging using beam deceleration or stage bias. 

Investigation of nano-sized details on a ceramics surface showing a series of acceleration voltages used at high resolution, from 15kV down to 200V. Images acquired with ZEISS GeminiSEM, SE detector. Surface sensitivity is achieved by using low and extremely low voltages. 

Ferrocerium particles, combine imaging with analytics using Inlens detection on a ZEISS FE-SEM with EDS mappings. The Inlens SE detector gives information on oxide nanoparticles.

Ferrocerium particles. The EsB detector shows material contrast down to the nanoscale.

Ferrocerium particles. A zinc/magnesium oxide region (purple) and a cesium/lanthanum oxide region (green). Similar phase separation can also be observed in the two smaller particles, where the size of the resolved phase is well below 10 nm.

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Speak to our microscopy experts about your challenges

Get in touch with us to learn more about the ZEISS microscopy solutions portfolio for engineering materials research. Get insights on your specific research challenges or facility, book a demo at our customer center, or get a quote. We are looking forward to hearing from you.