Ceramic processing is used to produce commercial products that are very diverse in size, shape, detail, complexity, and material composition, structure, and cost. The purpose of ceramics processing to an applied science is the natural result of an increasing ability to refine, develop, and characterize ceramic materials.
Ceramics are typically produced by the application of heat upon processed clays and other natural raw materials to form a rigid product. Ceramic products that use naturally occurring rocks and minerals as a starting material must undergo special processing in order to control purity, particle size, particle size distribution, and heterogeneity. These attributes play a big role in the final properties of the finished ceramic. Chemically prepared powders also are used as starting materials for some ceramic products. These synthetic materials can be controlled to produce powders with precise chemical compositions and particle size.
The next step is to form the ceramic particles into a desired shape. This is accomplished by the addition of water and/or additives such as binders, followed by a shape forming process. Some of the most common forming methods for ceramics include extrusion, slip casting, pressing, tape casting and injection molding. After the particles are formed, these "green" ceramics undergo a heat-treatment (called firing or sintering) to produce a rigid, finished product. Some ceramic products such as electrical insulators, dinnerware and tile may then undergo a glazing process. Some ceramics for advanced applications may undergo a machining and/or polishing step in order meet specific engineering design criteria.