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Smart materials and intelligent structures [1-15] comprise a wide ranging
multidisciplinary activity embracing subjects ranging through polymer chemistry,
materials research, sensor technology, signal processing techniques, novel
mechanical and structural engineering and innovative approaches to control and
The distinction between smart and intelligent is not clear. The word
smart appears in one Japanese/(American) English dictionary as the Japanese
for intelligent (EPSRC Newsline, September 1995)!
For our purpose here we will take:
- smart to be the repeatable response to a specific stimulus or combination of stimuli. It is thus a conditioned/automatic/second nature response to the situation and does not require any form of decision taking on the part of the material or structure.
- intelligent will be restricted to those situations
where the system has a choice of responses and a decision has to be made in respect of which action to take.
A material will always act in a predictable way (within the statistical variation
inherent in the properties), whereas a structure may act in a predictable way,
an indeterminate way or according to some control system. A material cannot
make a decision as to how to respond, but must respond in a consistent manner,
unless the properties have been changed by its history (by fracture, yielding,
heat treatment etc). It has no capability to decide which action to take and
therefore can only be smart according to the above definitions. A
structure may be either smart or intelligent.
Note that some so-called materials have complex internal structures and can only be
considered as a single material when the scale at which they are considered is
large in relation to the scale of the microstructure. This is especially
apparent in composite materials where the structure can only be considered
homogeneous at a scale somewhat larger than the unit cell of the fabric
There are fundamentally three separate inter-acting parts to an intelligent
structure. These parts are embedded sensors (Table 1) > signal processing and control > actuator (Table 2). Following from the above definitions, we can now separate
smart (eg. photochromic glass or low melting point wax in a fire sprinkler)
from intelligent (eg. active suspensions) such that the former does not
have a control system and the latter has all the three required components.
Table 1: Typical sensing systems
|microdielectric electrodes||resin cure or
|shape memory alloy (SMA) nitinol (Ni/Ti) wires||strain measurement
|shape memory polymers||
|ferromagnetic microwires||strain measurement
| optical fibre arrays||cure, strain measurement, fracture, acoustic emission, debonding
|piezoelectric transducers||acoustic emission
Key issues in signal processing and control are data fusion for large sensor arrays
and control protocols, e.g. genetic algorithms (GA) or fuzzy logic (FL) or artificial neural networks (ANN)
or knowledge based systems (KBS)/artificial intelligence(AI)/expert systems).
Table 2: Typical actuator systems
|piezoelectric actuators||convert electric control signals to movement
|magnetostrictive materials||convert magnetic signals to strain
|magnetorheological fluids||active vibration damping
|electrorheological fluids||active vibration damping
|shape memory materials||temperature dependent reaction forces
||swell (or shrink) with changing water content
The Katholieke Universiteit Leuven ADAPTive Composites with Embedded
Shape Memory Alloy Wires project presents a
Video showing the shape change of a SMA-composite.
Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS)
[55-56] are the integration of mechanical elements, sensors, actuators, and electronics on a common silicon substrate
through microfabrication technology. The electronics are fabricated using
integrated circuit (IC) process sequences (e.g., CMOS, Bipolar, or BICMOS
processes). The micromechanical components are fabricated using compatible
"micromachining" processes that selectively etch away parts of the silicon wafer
or add new structural layers to form the mechanical and electromechanical
A related technology is
biomimetics (lessons from nature for engineering).
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Updated by John Summerscales on
11-Sep-2019 14:32 (biomimetics
moved to a separate page on 22 June 2005). Terms and conditions. Errors and omissions. Corrections.