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Small and smart
Circuitry is not the only way to be smart. Smart materials enable a whole range of new applications to make our lives easier or processes faster. Nanotechnology coatings make smart materials out of everyday things.
Machines monitor and control each other in the Industry 4.0 smart factory, using sensors that collect data continuously and make it available for evaluation. But what if sensors were no longer needed? What if materials had sensoring properties that turned them into smart materials?
Scientists have long been working on this idea in the field of nanotechnology. Intelligent materials that react differently depending on what they are exposed to – that is the goal. Such smart materials have been quickly gaining momentum in recent years, and are already present or near implementation in industrial applications in many areas.
Smart materials measure and perform simultaneously
The advantage of smart materials is that they are influenced by environmental inputs and have both actuator and sensor properties. This means they transform electrical signals into mechanical movement or other physical processes (such as pressure or temperature), and simultaneously measure the change.
Extremely compact and smart systems are the result, particularly in the mechatronics field. In terms of energy efficiency, physical volume and costs, these systems are often superior to conventional drives such as electric motors, hydraulics or pneumatics.
Shape memory alloys, for example, are smart materials that return to their original form after a mechanical change.
Architects can use this property to shade facades, with temperature-sensitive wires that cause small parasols to open up under direct sunlight. When the sky clouds over, they automatically close again.
Rosy future for smart materials
Other surface coatings that change components' aerodynamic properties are particularly valued in the aviation industry. Production robots use magnetorheological elastomers to magnetically and continuously modify the strength of vibration- or shock-absorbing substrates. The list of applications could go on almost indefinitely.
So smart materials are perfect for registering and responding to conditions. A smart factory is significantly harder to design using conventional components: Increasing functionality and component complexity mean more need for space, rising energy consumption and greater susceptibility to breakdown. But smart materials implement functionality directly into the component structure – which allows them to offer significantly greater possibilities. Wherever smart materials are used, they make technology less complex and thus more reliable and maintainable: Their benefit is obvious, their future potential enormous.
What was once viewed as pure science fiction is within our grasp today. At HANNOVER MESSE, experts from business and the economy come together to lay the groundwork for visionary products and applications. Look forward into the future with them at Research & Technology , the leading international trade show for research, development and technology transfer.
Original: Hannover messe