Thermal Ceramics provides integrated solutions to businesses with heat management issues, using its state-of-the-art technology and technical expertise to make sure companies' employees, clients and equipment are protected from extremely high temperatures, Jeffrey Matthews reports.
Companies need thermal insulation and other protective materials for many reasons, whether to prevent damage to steel production equipment, to permit employees to work near high-temperature processes without injury, or to prevent fires from spreading from a car’s engine compartment to its passenger compartment.
Thermal Ceramics, a division of the Morgan Crucible Company Plc., provides solutions to those heat management problems, and to many others. Auto-makers, aerospace companies, chemical plants, shipyards and a host of other manufacturers turn to Thermal Ceramics for more than just insulating materials; they also seek out its years of experience with heat management issues.
“We don’t see ourselves as a manufacturer; production is just one part of our value offer,” said Antonio Carlos Resende, the general manager of Morgan Crucible’s Thermal Ceramics division in Brazil. “We have an outside-in approach. We go to the market with our products and heat management expertise and we develop solutions to solve costumers’ problems. We can supply a total package involving engineering design, installation, products and certification. That’s a different approach from a simple manufacturer that dumps bags of products through the door of the plant.”
Thermal Ceramics produces insulation and refractory materials in several different forms, including fiber that can be spun into blankets and other forms, or sold in bulk; insulating firebricks that can be made in straight or slab form, and customized as needed, and monolithics, which can be cast, poured, pumped or plastered into place, depending on the location and use of the insulation.
The fiber, known as Superwool Plus, offers users low thermal conductivity, low linear shrinkage and low bio-persistence, meaning that if the fibers are inhaled, they’re eliminated from the body within days. The low bio-persistence fiber was developed to minimize any hazard to workers and to the environment and can be turned into boards, custom-made special shapes and even textiles in the form of gloves and other protective clothing.
The company’s insulating firebricks are used to contain the heat produced by industrial processes ranging from ceramics to aluminum production. The bricks are high-strength even at extremely elevated temperatures, are lightweight, cool quickly and can be ground to precise dimensions and custom-shaped as required.
Thermal Ceramics’ line of monolithic products can be used in a wide variety of situations, and are available in different formulations and densities, depending on the use. They provide high thermal shock resistance, good strength as well as resistance to mechanical impact and molten metals, making them ideal for applications in many different industries.
THE LATEST TECHNOLOGY
Thermal Ceramics has always been in the vanguard of technology in the sector, around the world and in Brazil. It was the first company to make ceramic fibers in Brazil, the first to make spun fiber in Brazil and the first to make low bio-persistence fiber in the country. Right now the company is introducing a new product in Brazil, called E=Superwool Plus, that can reduce lost energy in some applications by 20 percent.
Using new technology, the company has maximized the number of fibers available in an insulation layer, making E=Superwool Plus more efficient and helping reduce costs for its users. That technology is expanding to Thermal Ceramics’ production facilities around the world, and the material is finding its way into more and more of the company’s products.
“The product has more fibers than in previous products, which means we’re selling more insulation for the same amount of product,” Resende explained. “So far we’re the only company in the world that has this technology. We’re right on the edge of technology for fiber products.”
Developing the latest, most efficient technology is just part of Thermal Ceramics’ competitive advantage. The company prides itself on its ability to provide its clients with custom-designed solutions for their needs, with more than 3,000 employees in more than 30 countries, all working together to develop the best package of products and services available.
“A problem in Brazil can easily be shared with teams around the world and solutions usually are designed by many people in different countries,” said Resende. “We go, we analyze the situation and we develop a solution to manage the heat, reduce heat loss, stop heat from propagating, insulate your gas tank or whatever, because these are all typical situations with heat in a process. Our application engineering team develops the solution combining different products and using the most appropriate lining or product for that problem.”
GROWTH IN BRAZIL
The company started its operations in Brazil in 1958, marking its 50th anniversary in the country last year. The business began as an importer of crucibles from its British parent company before starting its own crucible manufacturing in the country. In 1976 Thermal Ceramics opened a fiber plant in Rio de Janeiro which made refractories and castable products, and in 2005 and 2006 opened new production lines in the plant producing spun fiber and low bio-persistence fiber.
The new production lines were built with a considerable investment and boosted output at the plant significantly. The plant’s 14,000 square meters (151,000 square feet) of production facilities and storage areas are built on a 30,000-square-meter property close to several steel mills within the city limits of Rio and can produce 18,000 to 20,000 tons of ceramic fibers and refractories per year.
The entire Thermal Ceramics division in Brazil employs only 88 people, including administrative and sales personnel, as well as the plant’s workers, a strong indication of how automated production is at the factory.
Raw materials, which come mainly from mines and mineral deposits around Brazil, are blended in an automatic mixer, then are moved by a conveyor into a furnace, where the mixture is melted at temperatures as high as 3000 degrees Celsius (5400 degrees Fahrenheit). To make fibers, the resulting liquid is then either blown or spun and then turned into whichever form is being produced on that day.
Once the products are finished they are then sold to clients such as the Arcelor Mittal steel group, Embraer, PetroBras, petrochemical maker Braschem and Mercedes Benz. Embraer uses insulating blankets throughout its airplanes.
The company makes sure it stays ahead of the pack by offering clients the latest technology and everything else they need to manage their heat issues as part of their all-around service package.
“Customers are asking for more and more from their suppliers, they want more than just products and that’s key to our strategy,” said Resende. “Whatever the process of the clients involving heat, they need to manage it. We talk about a washing machine, an airplane, a car, a blast furnace, anywhere you want to protect something – a ship, a fast ferry, a tanker, from a fire – all these involve heat, and our goal is to be an advanced insulation company providing solutions for those situations and more.”