Friday, 16 May 2014

The Use of Smart Materials in Automotive Applications

Smart materials are materials that react to changes in the environment and consistently repeat recurring behavior. In the auto industry, there have been some recent breakthroughs in using shape-memory alloys and polymers which have numerous application opportunities including in the automotive, medical, aerospace, electronics and appliance industries.

Most “smart materials” used in the automotive industry change their shape or structural properties on external stimuli like heat, magnetic field, electrical voltage or stress. The most preferred smart materials, like shape-alloy metals can “remember” their shapes and structures and revert to their original states once the external stimuli is removed.

Common shape-alloy metals include copper-aluminum-nickel alloys, nickel-titanium allows and copper-zinc-aluminum alloys.

Smart materials provide a choice to engineers because they offer new opportunities to reduce product complexity and weight of a car or automotive. Actuators and sensors made from smart materials also have the ability to improve vehicle performance and fuel economy, as well as enhancing convenience features.


Industrial uses of smart materials

Smart materials are being used in the automotive industry already. Engineers at Boeing, General Electric Co. and Goodrich Corp. have created a variable geometry chevron capable of reducing engine noise in commercial aircrafts.

Automakers are already using sensors and actuators made of smart materials to replace existing motors and mechanical devices used for purposes like adjusting mirrors, seats and headrests, or operating door locks and windows, or to release latches and etcetera.

In an interview in 2010 with Assembly magazine, Alan Taub, vice president of research, development and strategic planning at General Motors had claimed, “smart materials will change the look and feel of our cars and trucks … they can provide significant benefits when they are used to replace conventional motorized or hydraulic devices by reducing vehicle mass, component size and complexity, and improving design flexibility, functionality and reliability.”

GM unveils use of smart materials in Corvette

Within four years from that interview, in 2014, General Motors has already announced that the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette will feature General Motors’ first production application of a shape-memory alloy. In the application – a wire is used to open and close the vent hatch in the car’s trunk area. The SMA wire replaces a motorized actuator and reduces component mass by approximately 500 gm. The use of the smart wire also helps the trunk lid to close more easily than on the earlier Corvette.

The SMA used in the latest Corvette is backed with five years of research through which GM has already earned 247 patents.