New Ceramic Technologies, EMEA and BRIC Business Expansion Result from Zircoa Management Takeover

The Zircoa Team
The Zircoa Team (left to right):
Tim Leitzel, Sales/Marketing Dir.; Thomas Boehm, Managing Dir. Zircoa GmbH; Ronne Proch, President; Rick Alexander, Engineering Dir.; Dr. Boris Farber, R & D Dir.

Abstract

Zircoa, Inc., Solon, Ohio, went from being privately held in the 50’s to being owned by a succession of large companies. In 2010 Ronne Proch led a management team to purchase the business back from parent, ANH Refractories, and has redirected the company’s focus and message.

Recently, Zircoa formed and reorganized a European sales office of its former parent company into a wholly owned subsidiary named Zircoa GmbH, and will use it as a beachhead to EMEA countries (Europe, Middle East and Africa) and Russia. Zircoa’s R & D team led by co-owner, Dr. Boris Farber, has developed an innovative, low cost NOX/NH3 sensor that meets the new Tier 4 EPA emissions standards and is the only commercial manufacturer to do so.

Dr. Farber has also led the discovery of a high strength, low cost Ce-TZP material that meets the needs of the marketplace of toughness and low cost. Zircoa’s manufacturing/engineering organization, led by co-owner, Rick Alexander has developed and installed state of the art lean manufacturing practices that have facilitated an average 10% growth over the last 3 years. The final step in the current stage of evolution is to establish a joint venture in Russia with potential for manufacturing.

Introduction

Zircoa was founded more than 60 years ago as an entrepreneurial venture, and has been owned by large corporations like Pickens Mather, Diamond Shamrock, Corning, Didier/RHI and ANH Refractories. Zircoa flourished during most of this time, creating a high profile for itself in the ceramic industry. At the bottom of the 2008 recession, then, General Manager, Ronne Proch, assembled a team of key employees and investors and purchased the business from ANH in mid-2010.

Zircoa Refractory Lined Very High Temperature Reactor
Schematic of a Zircoa Refractory Lined Very High Temperature Reactor

The new team quickly instituted many initiatives, including lean processing, development of new materials and processes and revitalized sales and marketing efforts. The result has been a renewal of the entrepreneurial spirit, spurring significant growth in products and markets. With the recent formation of Zircoa GmbH, replacing Didier/RHI as its representative for many of Zircoa’s products to EMEA, Zircoa has established a firm beachhead for its new initiatives in that area.

The new venture’s product line will include all of Zircoa’s line of high temperature zirconia refractories, as well as products from associated companies that make other advanced ceramic materials. Zircoa GmbH is seeking additional associated advanced ceramic product lines to supplement its core offerings.

The new sales/distribution office in Tambov, Russia, may lead to the establishment of a local zirconia manufacturing hub using Zircoa’s technology and new technology that is being developed in cooperation between Zircoa and the internationally recognized Nanocenter at the Tambov State University.

Strategic market initiatives, led by Tim Leitzel, Sales and Marketing Manager, have focused Zircoa’s growing resources and renewed spirit on expanding into emerging markets. Global sustainability initiatives are driving processes to greater efficiencies. This opens the door for Zircoa to step in and to assist in applications such as crystal growth, pollution control and carbon black manufacture. High quality and lean manufacturing also has created new openings for global expansion of its traditional lines of refractory liners, crucibles, nozzles, slide gates and other high temperature applications. Known historically for the quality of its zirconia products, its new discoveries will enhance its recent growth many fold.

New Initiatives for Growth

New Ce-TZP: Grain Size 50-70 nm
New Ce-TZP: Grain Size 50-70 nm

Standard Ce-TZP, Grain size 300-500 nm
Standard Ce-TZP, Grain size 300-500 nm

Zircoa has always devoted significant resources to R & D. However, these efforts were largely reactive rather than proactive. With the new ownership’s philosophical changes, the focus has moved to innovation and the two newest products address two very large markets.

1. Black Diamond Zirconia: Finer Microstructure – Improved Properties

The first is a very tough, yet, low cost zirconium oxide material called Black Diamond. The Black Diamond has very good fracture toughness, is very hard and dense, comparing favorably in all aspects to Y-TZP material except price. It is expected to find application in areas as diverse as mud pump liners, can tooling and grinding media beads.

Ce-TZP (New Nano-Composition)
Ce-TZP (New Nano-Composition)
Ce-TZP (Standard Grade)
Ce-TZP (Standard Grade)
Wear Rate: Ce-TZP (New Nano-Composition)
Ce-TZP Density
(g/cm3)
HV
(GPa)
K1C
(MPa*m1/2)
New
Nano-
Composition
6.1 11.6 >15.0
Standard Grade 6.2 11.5 11.0

2. Low Cost NOx/NH3 Sensor

Low Cost NOx/NH<sub>3</sub> Sensor

Low Cost NOx/NH3 Sensor

The second very exciting product is Zircoa’s new, low cost NOx/NH3 sensor product, designed using Zircoa’s patented Pulse Discharge Technique. Zircoa has found a way to make an improved variety of typical YSZ sensor materials into low cost, very fast (< 1 sec) and sensitive gas partial pressure sensors (< 1 PPM).

The combination of material innovation, signal analysis and substrate modification have provided a breakthrough that meets the EPA’s, CARB’s and all the engine builder’s requirements of low cost, ruggedness, design flexibility, response time and sensitivity so that they have met and exceeded the EPA’s 2010 Tier 4 threshold performance regulations.

Discharge Phases of NOx/NH3 Sensor
Discharge Phases of NOx/NH3 Sensor
Sensitivity of NOx/NH3 Sensor
Sensitivity of NOx/NH3 Sensor

The zirconia based material and system are designed to be produced in a ‘drop-in’ configuration that does not require any engine modification and reduces the urea back filling required by many diesel engines, sufficient to cover the cost of the product in urea savings alone.

The above illustrations demonstrate the simplicity of the design and concept as well as improved sensitivity to NOx. The product is designed to be used in all internal combustion engines from off-road diesels, to natural gas city buses to stationary gas engines. The potential for this breakthrough is expected to be even greater for these ceramic products than zirconia oxygen sensors were 25 years ago

Charge/Discharge Cycles
Charge/Discharge Cycles
Sensor response Time to NOx Concentration
Sensor response Time to NOx Concentration

The sensor systems are currently under evaluation in an EPA/engine company supported program at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) and commercially usable product is expected to be available by mid-2015. The volume requirements for this product are enormous and reduction in NOx emissions (smog producer and significant greenhouse gas component) is a very important focus for the EPA and DOE. Heretofore, there have been no systems available that met all the criteria for commercial and environmental acceptance (response, sensitivity, ease of use and cost) mandated by the 2010 EPA Guidelines. Zircoa’s solution meets all of these needs and the company is scaling up production to meet the requirements.

In Summary

Zircoa’s new management has recreated its early energy and innovative spirit and its recent growth indicates that the company is destined for a leading role in the ceramic marketplace.

For further information contact: Tim Leitzel, Director of Sales and Marketing at tleitzel@zircoa.com, (+1-440-349-7216) or Thomas Boehm, Managing Director of Zircoa GmbH at tboehm@zircoa.com, (+49-611-335497-22)

For company information please browse our Website: www.zircoa.com.

An edited version of article, titled: “Investing in Ceramics: New Zirconia-Based Ceramic Technologies,” appeared in the December 1, 2014 Issue of Ceramics Industry

About the Author: Richard ‘Bud‘ Cass is the former President of Advanced Cerametrics, Inc and is currently the Managing Member of Bud Cass Consulting, LLC. Contact: rbudcass@aol.com. (+1-908-797-9519)