Composites Design and Manufacture (Plymouth University teaching support materials)
Smart materials and intelligent structures

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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 actuation.

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:

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 reinforcement.

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 electrodesresin cure or moisture content [16]
shape memory alloy (SMA) nitinol (Ni/Ti) wiresstrain measurement [17-20]
shape memory polymers  [21-24]
ferromagnetic microwiresstrain measurement [25-26]
optical fibre arrayscure, strain measurement, fracture, acoustic emission, debonding [27-35]
piezoelectric transducersacoustic emission [36-38]

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 actuatorsconvert electric control signals to movement [39]
magnetostrictive materialsconvert magnetic signals to strain [40]
magnetorheological fluidsactive vibration damping [41-45]
electrorheological fluidsactive vibration damping [46-48]
shape memory materialstemperature dependent reaction forces [49-52]
hydrogels swell (or shrink) with changing water content [53-54]

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 devices.

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.