The material designers and engineers both love: glass-ceramic

When design and functionality align, great things can happen. It’s not very often, however, that a material bridges the gap between beautiful aesthetics and superior functionality. There are two materials capable of crossing that divide, and inspiring engineers to think about designs more completely: glass and glass-ceramics.

These materials bridge industries and interests, from home tech to energy to pharmaceuticals, creating new applications and rejuvenating old ones.

We’ll illustrate that point with a common kitchen appliance that has been relegated to mediocrity – the toaster.

The engineers over at Morphy Richards, a British company that manufactures household appliances, dreamed up a toaster with glass-ceramic side panels that allow home cooks to watch their bread and bagels toast. These glass-ceramic sides, made of NEXTREMA, warm up and transfer heat energy to the bread.

This toaster not only looks different than everything else in the kitchen, but its main design feature – the glass – is the key component in its functionality. Here’s a look at the toaster in action.

The toaster, of course, is just one example. Here’s a look at the range of designs and functionality glass-ceramics make possible.

Technical superiority with dressed up designs

Glass-ceramics are known for their technical advantages, including a non-porous surface and high thermal shock resistance. Plus, they can withstand high temperatures (up to 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit) without breaking, warping, or degrading. That’s why NEXTREMA was used in the Morphy Richards toaster – this glass-ceramic can heat up enough to toast a bagel, but it’s certainly not in danger of cracking or breaking.

But the material’s properties are only half the equation. Smooth specialty glass-ceramics can also be formed in a number of different colors, aside from their transparent state, and can be molded in many different shapes and sizes. Designs can even be printed directly onto the glass. Plus, glass-ceramics can be curved – a unique design choice in grills, for example.

So what do these design options mean for engineers? It’s a limitless field. We’ve already seen curved and bent fireplace windows in Europe, and a glass-ceramic grill lid that allows grill masters to monitor their steaks without lifting the lid. Plus, Morphy Richards dreamed up the ATOMiST, an iron that uses a glass plate to banish wrinkles. Could we see a shower head fronted with glass-ceramic that changes color from white to red as the water heats up? What about an entire kitchen counter made of glass-ceramic with a built-in stove? These advances in home tech are certainly possible in the near future.

When functionality is enhanced by design

Sometimes a system or device produces better results when it’s designed with superior materials. That’s the case of photobioreactors that use glass tubing to grow algae.

In the past, many producers grew algae blooms in open ponds. But many have transitioned to closed systems called photobioreactors that cycle water throughout a series of long tubes. These systems, especially when they’re constructed with DURAN glass, produce more algae biomass because more light is able to penetrate the glass, and therefore be converted into food energy by the algae. And, because they’re closed systems, these photobioreactors have a lower risk of contamination. Heliae Tubes

Other examples of systems benefiting from better glass are numerous. Glass that allows UV light to pass through can improve the performance of UV sensors, for example. The tiny micro diodes on satellites can be protected using special glass tubes, shielding these small electronic components from radiation.

Syringes and cartridges made with better glass tubing are less likely to negatively react with the drug they hold, therefore reducing the risks of extractables and leachables, as well as delamination. Glass tubing with high transparency and thermal shock resistance can also be used as both a design and functional element in architecture, as it can used in place of plastic.

The smart design choice: glass

Glass ceramics and specialty glasses are two materials that can help transform a run-of-the-mill device into a functional powerhouse, often with eye-catching design. After seeing that Morphy Richards toaster, will you ever look at the toaster the same way?

I’ll be at the upcoming Ceramics Expo, along with some colleagues, discussing the power and design aesthetics of glass and glass-ceramics (booth #1023).

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Hello, I’m Ted Wegert, Director Applications Engineering at SCHOTT North America. I specialize in product and material development and design, and mechanical analyses for glass and glass-ceramics. I’ve worked for SCHOTT for more than 18 years, leading product development for appliances, fireplaces, armor, and other industry applications. I’m an active member of the Association of Home Appliance Members, UL Environment, and the American Ceramic Society. I earned my bachelor’s degree from The Ohio State University. When I’m not working, I enjoy mountain biking, cyclocross, reading, and forming glass art. I’m also a frequent home renovator.

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