The European Ceramic Society
YCN Industry in the spot : BELREF SA - Research and development of refractories by Léna Roumiguier
YCN Newsletter 11 - December 2021
Refractories are very high temperature resistant materials. In the industry, by extension, refractory materials include most of the ceramics used for industrial furnace linings. According to the service conditions of the material, the required properties can be various. In addition to a temperature resistance sometimes up to more than 1600 °C, refractories may need thermal shocks and gradients resistance when they are subjected to intensive temperature changes. Moreover, corrosion resistance to liquid or gas phases is often required to a broad range of chemical compounds, depending on the furnace environment. Most of refractories may also withstand to mechanical shocks or wear during frictional contact. Finally, other properties, like high thermal conductivity to facilitate cooling from outside for example, or specific gas permeability in some metallurgical processes, could be desired.
I am working as R&D engineer at BELREF SA, a company based in Belgium which is producing refractories. This medium-sized company is specialized in short-run production and customized products. Our main customers are the glass and steel industries, but BELREF SA also supplies other specific sectors like incineration, calcination, or non-ferrous materials industries. Several production processes are used to produce different kinds of refractories: pressed bricks or big blocks, which can be adjusted to specific geometries at our finishing area; dry refractory castables or mortars; or preshaped products, which are manufactured shapes casted from refractory castables.
My main role is to develop new refractory products according to a customer’s need. The requirements for the new products are evaluated with the technical sales engineer and the customer. Then, the feasibility is studied with the industrial designer and the production engineer. The next step consists in laboratory testing to develop a new product formulation. Once the product characterized and validated at the laboratory scale, tests campaigns are undergone in the production line. The relative manufactured products are subjected to additional characterizations and to further optimization if required. When the final product is achieved, a new technical datasheet is established, and the new refractory can be proposed to our customers. My other functions are to offer technical support to our customers, to manage quality control and to help with production issues.
Before being hired as R&D engineer, I obtained an Engineering Diploma in industrial ceramics (ENSCI, Limoges). After different internships, my interest for the development of new ceramic products has been confirmed. Therefore, I pursed doctoral studies about the development of a neutron absorber for nuclear application. Besides strengthening my knowledge about ceramic processes and characterizations, this PhD thesis provided me interdisciplinary skills about project management, critical analysis of scientific results, methodology for problem solving, oral communication, report writing and the ability to embrace different points of view from various fields of expertise. All these skills are permanently used in my current profession of R&D engineer and allow me to successfully work on multiple projects and functions.
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