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Novel Ceramic/Metallic Materials October 2011 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Carl Telford

New Market Data for Advanced Ceramics and Metal-Matrix Composites

Why is this topic significant?

Opportunities in the Technology Map discusses future markets for novel ceramic and metallic materials, including advanced ceramics. This Viewpoints provides an update to this section by looking at the latest market figures across several novel ceramic and metallic materials.

Market forecasts see widespread use by investors and technology developers across many industrial sectors. In retrospect, many market forecasts for advanced structural materials—in particular those for structural ceramics—were extremely bold in their outlook. The massive expected growth in the market for structural ceramics did not materialize because commercial companies failed to produce usable structural components. As Opportunities in the Technology Map highlights, accurately assessing the overall market for advanced ceramics is extremely difficult.

Historical Market Figures

So why has the market for advanced ceramics been so difficult to predict? Market studies rely on models built on past performance and (crucially) on surveys that include multiyear sales forecasts from individual players, customers, and other industry stakeholders. Thus, market studies depend entirely on the accuracy of their current data and, of course, on the confidence of the industry players that feature in the survey, going forward. Although the reports are quantitative, they are still forecasts—dependent on what could happen but may not happen.

Now manufacturers are focusing their use of structural ceramics on applications for which the technical limitations of these materials are not critical. Electronic components and ceramic membranes are two major application areas that will drive growth, but studies also highlight bioceramics, cutting tools, and wear components (such as valves, liners, and seals).

Latest Market Figures

Figure 1 summarizes historic and recent market information for a range of novel ceramic and metal materials (NCMMs); a number of different market-research players have provided this data. Figure 2 provides my opinion of the likely size of these markets, taking into consideration data from all the market-research players.

Figure 1: Market-Development Timeline
Figure 2: Relative Market Size for Common MCMMs, 2011

Looking across these reports enables one to build up quite an interesting picture of the likely global-market size for most of the important NCMMs:

  • Monolithic ceramics. In the past few years, several market studies have discussed advanced ceramics and CMCs (ceramic-matrix composites). In 2010, Global Industry Analysts (GIA; San Jose, California) reported that the global market for advanced ceramics is likely to reach $56.4 billion by 2015, with a reasonable compound annual growth rate (CAGR). According to the GIA report, "The structural ceramics market is the fastest growing product segment, displaying a robust CAGR of more than 7.0% over the analysis period." In a July 2011 report, Industry Experts (Hyderabad, India) reported that the global market for monolithic ceramics is likely to reach $29.8 billion by the end of 2011. Of this figure, electronic ceramics accounts for $17.4 billion—representing almost 60% of the global market for monolithic-ceramic materials. The report defines major application areas for monolithic ceramics as electrical and electronic parts, catalyst supports, filters, wear parts, engine parts, bioceramics, membranes, cutting tools, and body armor.
  • Ceramic-matrix composites. Market-research data for CMCs is pretty scarce. Nevertheless, according to a 2010 BCC Research (Wellesley, Massachusetts) report, the global market for CMCs was "projected to reach $870 million in revenue by the end of 2010. The total market for ceramic matrix composites is forecast to grow at a CAGR of 8.3% through 2015, reaching nearly $1.3 billion in total revenues."
  • Metal-Matrix Composites. Accurate market figures for metal-matrix composites (MMCs) are difficult to obtain, and forecasts vary widely. Looking retrospectively, BCC Research published new market figures for MMCs in February 2009. According to the company, "The global market for metal matrix composites consumed 4.1 million kilograms of materials in 2007 and 4.4 million kilograms in 2008. This is expected to increase to 5.9 million in 2013, for a compound annual growth rate of 5.9%." Since the publication of this report, further data has emerged. According to a February 2011 report by Global Industry Analysts: "Stung by lower sales in major end-use industries such as ground transportation and aviation, global MMC market hurtled from high double digit growth rates to lower digits during the global economic recession. However, the market is expected to regain poise to reach US$282.1 million by 2015. Post recession, future growth for the high strength MMCs would be primarily driven by new application in automobiles, microprocessors and other industries."

Implications

The contrast between the market sizes for different NCMMs is quite startling. Looking at Figure 1, one can see that there is a difference of nearly an order of magnitude between each NCMM technology. A clear market-size hierarchy exists: In extremely simple terms, one can state that advanced structural ceramics is a $10 billion global industry, CMCs is an approximately $1 billion global industry, and MMCs is an approximately $100 million global industry. Growth rates for individual classes of material may touch double digits in the near future, but one is not about to see MMCs challenge advanced ceramics in terms of commercial applications.

Predicting future growth and market size is fraught with danger—particularly because of the precarious nature of the current global economic climate. The sheer variation of the numbers provided by different market-research players is quite startling. As GIA's 2011 report noted, the 2008 recession hit the MMC market hard—a factor that the company's previous market forecasts likely did not include. However, the same report goes on to predict significant growth through 2015, with the market reaching $300 million. Given the huge uncertainty surrounding the current economic climate, I would suggest that all the above predictions are unlikely to play out quite as analysts expect. My advice is again simple: For all NCMM technologies, forget looking at numbers within industry forecasts in extreme detail and instead concentrate on discrete future growth opportunities and build business cases appropriately.  

Watchmaker Develops New Ceramic Material

Why is this topic significant?

Opportunities in the Technology Map discusses current and future applications for NCMMs in consumer-product applications. Consumer products are a highly important application area for NCMMs. Materials such as advanced ceramics and metal-matrix composites already find use in some consumer and professional products because many of their properties are appealing to manufacturers and users. This Viewpoints takes a look at the popularity of advanced ceramics in wristwatches and discusses a new material that a leading watchmaker has developed specifically for use in wristwatches.

As the May 2008 Viewpoints discussed, although watchmaking is a very traditional business, materials technology—always an important element of watchmaking—has come to the fore in recent years. High-end watchmakers and high-volume brands have flocked to NCMMs in the past few years. In particular, a seemingly ever-increasing number of watchmakers use advanced-ceramic cases and straps because these materials are extremely scratch resistant and lightweight and offer watch buyers an extremely high-quality appearance. Some ceramic watches are now surprisingly inexpensive. Indeed, companies such as Fossil Inc. (Richardson, Texas) retail ceramic-case watches for about $200.

In the past five years, the white-ceramic or black-ceramic wristwatch has become an important accessory for many fashion-conscious people around the world. Arguably, the popularity of the ceramic watch is attributable not to the first company to successfully mass-produce ceramic-case watches—Rado (Lengnau, Switzerland)—but to a follower: Chanel (Paris, France). As the May 2008 Viewpoints highlighted, the cases and bracelets of the French fashion giant's J12 watches comprise either white or black advanced ceramics. Arguably, the ceramic J12 has since become a design icon. Indeed, according to an August 2011 article in Chrono magazine, the ceramic-case Chanel J12 "can truly be regarded as one of the great horological success stories of the 21st century." A famous old idiom states that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and—true to form—many mass-market ceramic watches bear a remarkable resemblance to the J12.

The J12 has been around for more than a decade, but Chanel has refused to rest on its laurels. As I mention above, the J12 has seen tremendous success with many fashion-conscious people. However, despite being available in fairly large sizes, the ceramic versions have not really proved popular with male consumers. Responding to this issue, Chanel has reportedly developed a new material—comprising a blend of ceramic and titanium powders—with a unique visual appearance. Speaking in the Chrono article, journalist Simon de Burton describes the material as being as "abrasion resistant as standard ceramic but with the added benefit of having a lustrous metallic sheen which seems to absorb whatever colours are around it.... This new steely look should give the J12 added appeal to male buyers." (Interestingly, de Burton also comments that he "can't help wondering how a titanium-ceramic car would look.")

Chanel's development and commercialization of a new material—likely akin to a cermet (see The Technology in Brief in the Technology Map)—is extremely interesting. First, Chanel is an end-user prompting a development in materials technology. Second, if the titanium-ceramic finish proves popular with J12 customers, I foresee several new applications for this material emerging. (And many more applications for a range of imitations of this material.) As Opportunities in the Technology Map highlights, technologies that are attractive to watchmakers are likely to become attractive to the manufacturers of other products—for example, high-end consumer electronics and cars.