Interview: Don Bray, Global CTO Technical Ceramics of Morgan Advanced Materials

Don BrayDon Bray started his career at Alcoa’s Technical Center in Pennsylvania as a research engineer, focusing on advanced materials and composites. He was the Manager of the Composites Technology Center. Don's next position was at a small company, Advanced Refractory Technologies in Buffalo, NY, where he was the Director of Technology with a focus on diamond coatings and non-oxide ceramics.

Then he worked at Poco Graphite, where he was the VP, Technology and Development with development focused on carbon, graphite and silicon carbide. Don's current position is the Global CTO for Technical Ceramics at Morgan Advanced Materials.


Please tell us about your current role. What are your key focus areas and responsibilities?

In my current role, I focus on technology and product development related to Morgan’s technical ceramics business, which is quite broad and includes oxide ceramics, non-oxide ceramics, diamond coatings, braze alloys, ceramic metal assemblies, etc. Key focus areas include talent – assessment, development and acquisition. Getting the right people is a major effort for any advanced manufacturing company today. Another area of focus is innovation. We put much effort into developing technology roadmaps in concert with our customers’ evolving needs. How can the technology organization continue to develop new products and processes that meet the requirements of a company like Morgan? To that end, we focus on project management, acceleration of development projects and portfolio management.


What inspired you to join/start this company?

When I joined Morgan, the decision came down to the breadth of Morgan’s products and technologies, and the view that there was real potential for growth through development of new products and technologies. I have not been disappointed, as we have made significant investments in R&D, and are launching two new centers of excellence in North America: a center focused on carbon science at Penn State University, and a center focused on metals and joining at our Hayward, CA site. You will be hearing more about these in the near future.


What do you think sets your company apart from your competitors?

The technical ceramics industry is full of strong companies, and we do have very capable competitors. I think what sets Morgan apart from its competitors is that we focus on really challenging applications requiring close collaboration with our customers to deliver a custom solution.


What are the key opportunities and challenges your company faces at present?

Advanced ceramics continue to enable next-generation products in a wide variety of demanding applications, extreme environments if you will. As a material science-focused company, one of our main opportunities is accelerating delivery of new product introductions that will benefit our customers’ products with new solutions. To accelerate new products and innovation, our company is increasing investment in research and development. In addition to increased investment in R&D, we focus on our application engineering so that we are working collaboratively with our customers to best employ our material solutions. 

A key challenge that we face is selecting the right markets and applications that are commercially successful for Morgan. Another area is getting the right talent to drive our innovation.


Are there any new technology developments that you are working on at the moment? Can you tell us about them?

We are currently working on a full portfolio of new technologies. One of the most exciting ways we are doing this is through our global network of innovation centers. We have established several Centers of Excellence focused solely on delivering new technologies and innovation. For example, we have a Center of Excellence for Ceramics at our site in Stourport, England, which is developing new ceramic materials and capabilities. We are currently looking forward to opening our newest Center of Excellence for Metals and Joining at our site in Hayward, CA in October. This innovation center is already working to deliver new braze alloys that will enable joining of non-metals such as ceramic matrix composites to metals and non-metals in some very challenging applications.

As an example, Morgan’s ceramic components are used in electric water pumps (EWP) for temperature control of the engine and battery components to ensure optimum performance and longevity. As a result, these pumps are being increasingly favored in hybrid and full-electric vehicles as well as petrol/diesel stop-start vehicles. This is because they are considered to be more efficient than their mechanical counterparts.

The use of alumina shafts and bearings, as opposed to steel, offers a number of advantages; predominantly on account of alumina’s superior wear resistance properties. Because wear is reduced, the use of alumina ensures precision-fit components, reducing vibrations and noise levels in line with the overall ‘feel’ of electric and hybrid vehicles. Moreover, alumina shafts and bearings are more durable and require less periodic maintenance. Depending on the application requirements, a combination of alumina shaft with silicon carbide bearings or alumina shaft with alumina bearings can be used. This choice depends on many application factors such as the cooling medium, rotational speed of the pump, materials in contact and the power rating. For example, silicon carbide bearings are preferred for large pump applications of 2,00W plus, typically found in larger vehicles such as electric buses and commercial vehicles.

Morgan has developed a range of kiln furniture made from a material known as Halsic-N, which is a nitride-bonded silicon carbide with a microstructure that offers increased mechanical strength and greater durability than typical materials used for kiln furniture. It is an advancement of Morgan’s popular Halsic-R range, designed to have a longer lifespan, with enhanced refractory properties including resistance to oxidation and thermal shock. All components are available in a range of standard and bespoke whitewash coatings, allowing for porcelain articles to be easily removed from the kiln furniture.

As another example, Morgan has partnered with global aerospace giant Airbus Safran Launchers (ASL) to develop and manufacture ceramic thruster chambers to aid satellite propulsion using ion beam engines. The products are being developed using Morgan’s proprietary high-performance alumina materials, which are proven to deliver exceptional electrical properties.


What would you say most excites you about your role?

I would say the most exciting aspect of my role is the opportunity to see the transitions of ideas and technology into new products, to see our products enable a customer to deliver new capabilities. We supply components into active medical implants, personal armor, jet engines and many applications that have a significant impact on people’s lives. Our products enable improved efficiency in solar energy, wind energy, and oil and gas production. It is amazing where and how our products are used and how our customers depend on our technology.


How do you think the industry will develop within the next five years? Can you tell us about the key trends emerging?

I was part of a plenary session at Ceramics Expo in 2016. I, and the other speakers, noted that some significant changes will take place over the next few years. A key point was that 10,000 Baby Boomers will turn 65 every day for the next 20 years. Human resources-related challenges include: barriers for talent being removed (i.e. workers are more likely to move now than in the past), demographic shifts, skills gap, work globalization and declining middle-skill jobs. For technology, there will be an increased focus on innovation and nurturing a skilled workforce to meet increasing demands for high-performance materials. We are focusing on creating a company culture that focuses on innovation and creating an environment to connect people who focus on innovation. We certainly are taking a longer-term view on research, development and new products.


What do you hope to achieve at the show next year, and what connections do you hope to make?

I have been a member of ACerS for many years and for me one of the primary goals is to network with the many professional friends I have met over the years, and also to meet new people with whom I can share ideas and discuss future trends. At the expo, I can meet suppliers, customers, people from universities and national labs. It is a great venue for collaboration. 

Morgan Advanced Materials will be exhibiting at Ceramics Expo 2018 in booth 422