Ceramics in Drones & UAVs

Posted by on Oct 21, 2015 in Ceramic Engineering | Comments Off on Ceramics in Drones & UAVs

Ceramics in Drones & UAVs

You might not think it to look at a drone or quadcopter, but many of those large, metallic flying machines actually have ceramic components inside of them. Specifically, silicon nitride has been turning heads for years and appears to be an excellent ceramic material in the manufacture of high-efficiency engines, like the kind you might find in some of the larger drones and quadcopters available on the market. This particular ceramic material has a great level of stability even when exposed to high temperatures. It’s also highly resistant to corrosion, which again is important in any engine or motor.

As a quick side note, you actually find ceramics in a lot of machines, especially vehicles. Practically every spark plug in every car, truck, van and jeep around the world has some ceramic components because they are very resistant to wear in general. Studies have been done on the reliability of ceramics, and wouldn’t you know it, ceramics happen to be some of the most reliable materials in the world when it comes to lasting ability and resistance to wear, weather and heat. Considering that any quadcopter would have an engine which was constantly running when in use, ceramics might work there too.

There’s actually a study to that effect as well. It’s not exactly recent news, but Oregon State University did a pretty intense study on the use of powder injection molded silicon nitride as a material for major components inside of drones, or UAVs as they were referred to in the study. A UAV is any Unmanned Flying Vehicle, which doesn’t mean there isn’t actually a person controlling it, because that would be silly. They just aren’t on board the vehicle. This is one major misconception about drones, but it’s built right into the name and hard to avoid. Read more about quadcopters, drones and other UAVs right here.

Because of how well they work in electrical components like spark plugs, it stands to reason that ceramics might find their way into similar spots in other engines. While it’s true that your typical quadcopter or drone doesn’t run on gasoline and therefore doesn’t need that initial spark to start the combustion reaction and create propulsion, the electric engines of today have an even greater need for materials that interact well with electricity. That means ceramics may actually see more use, not less. You can expect to see ceramic components inside of any decent quadcopter you find.

While ceramics are excellent for insulating electrical components in engines, they are still fairly fragile. A nice impact with another vehicle or a sudden drop off an elevated surface will probably crack, chip or outright break ceramics in vehicles, even today. Not that people are going to be flying their quadcopters or drones into buildings or do suicide dives into the Earth with them, though some probably will either by mistake or intentionally. Ceramics are cheap, readily available and useful for fulfilling this purpose, so they probably aren’t going to be cut out of engines any time soon.