Toshiba Materials moves to ramp up silicon nitride ball production capacity

Toshiba Materials Co., Ltd. announced a major investment in a new manufacturing facility for silicon nitride balls on the same site as its headquarters in Yokohama, Japan. The project has a budget of over 5-billion yen (approximately US$38 million) and is expected to see production start in November 2023. It will increase capacity by 50% against fiscal year 2021.

Toshiba Materials, spun off from Toshiba in October 2003, continues to advance R&D and manufacturing of silicon nitride balls, recognized for their reliability and for delivering the highest mechanical performance. Its experience and record of success in bearing balls that meet demands for high speed rotation and anti-electrolytic corrosion, including tools, wind power generators and rolling stock, have won the firm about 50% of the world market.

How essential are silicon nitride balls today?

Continued advances in automobile electrification requires solutions that go beyond higher voltage batteries and shorter charging times. One measure to reduce costs and improve performance is the integration of motors and inverters. Although this increases risk of electrolytic corrosion in motor bearings, the problem can be overcome with hybrid bearings, which replace standard steel balls with ceramic balls with steel inner and outer races.

Advantages of high reliability, excellent strength and superior wear resistance are positioning ceramic balls as the solution of choice. Toshiba Group has long recognized the potential of fine ceramic products, and won basic patents for silicon nitride compounds as early as 1974.

With increases in demand for bearings for electric vehicles on the horizon, Toshiba Materials has decided to make this significant investment in increasing capacity. The production facility will be built on the company’s headquarters site, where an old building, no longer in use, will be demolished to make way for it. The facility should be seen as the first phase of expansion, and Toshiba Materials is considering further expansions to meet future demand growth.

What are the features of silicon nitride balls?

Toshiba Materials will continue stable supply of high quality products, and contribute to increased use of environmentally friendly EVs. Features of silicon nitride balls include:

  • Low density: less than half the weight of a steel ball of the same size
  • High heat resistance
  • Resistant to electrolytic corrosion, as it is an insulator
  • Resistant to corrosion and rust caused by acids and alkalis
  • A non-magnetic material, not easily affected by a strong magnetic field