Speaker Interview: Tony Finoli, Ph.D, R&D manager, McDanel Advanced Ceramic Technologies

Tony Finoli

In this speaker interview, conference producer Fleur Jonker speaks to Tony Finoli, R&D manager at McDanel Advanced Ceramic Technologies, about the potential for advanced ceramic materials in future applications.

Tony received a PhD from the University of Pittsburgh in Material Science and Engineering in 2013.  His research included the processing of calcium phosphates and their use in biological applications. Tony has been with McDanel since 2013 working in research and development.  He works on new product development and am a technical specialist for several of McDanel Advanced Ceramic Technologies product lines to help provide customers with the right product for their application.

Please tell us about your role as R&D manager at McDanel Advanced Ceramic Technologies. What are your key focus areas and responsibilities?

As R&D manager, I focus on new product development, process improvements, and I am a technical specialist for certain applications for our customers. We are a small company, so our development efforts are mainly customer focused. This means that close technical contact with our customers is key. This involves helping customers with inquiries, performing evaluation on issues from the field, and even visiting customers to see the application first-hand.


What excites and challenges you about your work?

We manufacture parts for many different industries, so in any given day there can be a variety of things to work on. This keeps things interesting, whether it is a new customer inquiry or question or new developments in the lab. Working at a small company allows me to work closely with people throughout the process, both internally and with customers. While developing new products, this means that I can be involved not only in the development stage, but also in manufacturing and, in some cases, the end use of the product.


What markets do you serve and what are the megatrends and future technologies?

We serve a wide variety of industries with our ceramic products, including components that are used in aerospace and automotive manufacturing, chemical processing, energy, and semiconductor manufacturing. In all of these industries, companies are constantly scaling up the process and looking to produce products more efficiently to lower costs. The materials they use must be capable of accommodating these advancements, and that creates challenges and opportunities for us to supply advanced ceramic components. In some cases, this also involves providing an assembly using our materials as a single component or as an assembly of several of our components.


What are the current material challenges that these applications are facing?

In many of these industries, the materials used must be resistant to high temperatures and have adequate corrosion resistance in the processing environment, whether that is the atmosphere in a heat treat furnace or due to the material being immersed in molten metal or chemicals. As adoption of advanced ceramics in these applications continues to grow, customers are requesting bigger parts with more stringent tolerances and more demanding applications. This can be a challenge for dense advanced ceramics, which commonly shrink 20-25% during sintering. However, by using improved processing techniques and precision machining some of the requests can be met. Other times it involves working with customers to make some changes to the design or application so that ceramics can be used successfully. 

What opportunities do you see for future materials and advanced ceramic materials, specifically?

The unique properties that ceramics can bring to the table make them attractive options for advancing and enabling new technologies. The high corrosion resistance of some advanced ceramics allows for products to be made that can be immersed in corrosive materials with much longer lifetimes than traditional materials can offer, if they can even be used at all. The wear resistance of some advanced ceramics makes them ideal materials for applications such as high precision pumps or biomedical implants, where wear of metals and polymers can have disastrous effects. The lower specific gravity of ceramics compared to most metals can be advantageous in applications such as aerospace components, where weight can have a big impact on design and thus efficiency of the final product. The crystal structure of some ceramic materials such as zirconia and other ion-conducting ceramics can be used as active membranes for gas sensors, the generation of high-purity oxygen or other gases, and in fuel cells.


In terms of industry news, what development, announcement, or otherwise stood out most to you in 2017?

The continuing advancement in new technologies such as additive manufacturing and new energy applications – for example, battery and membrane materials – has really stood out to me.  Being able to quickly produce prototypes or complex shapes can speed up development work, and newer technologies are making that a reality. When you look at emerging energy technologies, advanced ceramic materials will play a key role in energy production and storage.


We’re looking forward to seeing you at Ceramics Expo 2018. Can you tell us what you’re most looking forward to at the show?

As a ceramic component manufacturer, this show is a great opportunity to make connections with new customers, partners, and suppliers. We can explore new opportunities from supply to end use all in one place. In addition to that, it is always nice to walk around the expo to see what new processing technologies are available, with some companies even having full-size equipment and demonstrations during the show. It really is a one-stop shop for the ceramics industry.

Toni Finoli will be speaking on the 'Solving Thermal Management Challenges with Silicon Nitride Substrates in Power Electronics' session on Wednesday May 2, Track 2.