Most everyone knows the benefits of ceramic coatings for cars and trucks (and, for that matter, boats and motorcycles). What most people don’t know is what is in those tiny little bottles that come from the ceramics manufacturer. A cocktail of chemicals, sure. But exactly WHAT chemicals? And how do they work together to give a great shine as well as tough protection from road hazards, bird droppings, and the effects of weather and ultraviolet rays?
Putting all those chemicals together in the right way is a complex endeavor that involves a number of steps – steps that range from sourcing the raw materials to blending all of them in the right proportions and under careful laboratory-like conditions.
Here is an overview of the process of making of ceramic coatings
Raw material selection
The primary raw materials for ceramic coatings include various minerals, oxides, and sometimes polymers. Common ingredients may include silicon dioxide (silica), alumina, titania, zirconia, and other ceramic or metallic compounds.
These materials are selected based on such desired outcomes as hardness, durability, and heat resistance. The final chemical cocktail must not work as intended; it must be able to be stored for a predetermined period in the bottle that it comes in, and it must flow as a thick liquid when it comes out of the bottle. Once it is applied, it must set and harden as intended – too fast and it may harden before it is properly applied; too slow, and it may not give the appearance that it should.
Milling and mixing
Once selected and obtained, some of the raw materials must be milled to a fine powder. Milling helps ensure uniform particle size and distribution, which is crucial for the coating’s performance. The milled powders are then blended to create a homogenous blend. This mixture forms the basis for the ceramic coating. This blend makes up the foundational ceramic material.
That foundational material won’t work if it cannot be bound together and then applied in a liquid form. And that can’t happen without a binder to hold everything together. Binders are added to the powder mixture. These binders can be organic or inorganic, and they make it possible for the now-liquified coating material to be applied and adhered to the substrate.
The binder also contributes to the ease of application and the overall stability of the coating.
Formulation and suspension
Additional components, such as solvents and stabilizers, may be added to the mixture to create a suspension with the right viscosity for application. The formulation process involves adjusting the ratios of ingredients to achieve the desired performance characteristics. Getting those amounts carefully balanced is what makes it possible for the ceramic coating to do the job that was intended – thick enough to form a perfect protective shield, and thin enough to make the application process easy and effective.
Now that we have a good ceramic product that is carefully and effectively balanced, we can move on to the final application phase.
Before that happens, there are several important preparation steps to make sure the surface is best able to handle the ceramic coating.
The surface needs to be carefully cleaned and de-bugged. The surface may need to be clay-barred, or even lightly sanded with a high-grit sandpaper.
Once the surface is properly prepared, there are several ways that ceramic coatings can be applied — spraying, dipping, brushing, or even powder coating, depending on the specific type of coating and the substrate. Most shops apply the ceramic material by hand, then work it by hand and by using a buffer.
The application process requires precision to ensure an even and consistent coating thickness.
Drying and curing
After application, the coating needs to be dried to remove solvents and promote adhesion. This is typically done at controlled temperatures.
Curing involves subjecting the coated material to higher temperatures, allowing chemical reactions to take place, and forming a hard, durable, stable ceramic structure.
Various quality control measures are implemented throughout the manufacturing process. This includes testing the raw materials, monitoring the consistency of the mixture, and conducting performance tests on the final coated product. This step is critical to obtaining the desired viscosity, hardness, curing ability, and, ultimately, the designed protectability and shine.
Testing and inspection
The finished ceramic-coated products undergo rigorous testing to ensure they meet specified standards. This may involve assessments of hardness, adhesion, corrosion resistance, and other relevant properties.
Packaging and distribution
Once the ceramic coatings pass quality control and testing, they are packaged for distribution. Packaging methods can vary depending on the type of coating and its intended use. There must be uniformity between batches of ceramics. The people who end up applying the ceramic product must be able to count on the product’s uniformity – the ceramics they apply today must behave the same way as the product which they applied last month of last year.
Throughout each of these steps, manufacturers may fine-tune their processes based on the specific properties and applications of the ceramic coatings they are producing. Continuous improvement and adherence to quality standards are essential in the manufacturing of high-performance ceramic coatings.