Self-Diagnostic Materials February 2018
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The monitoring and maintenance of army vehicles can be expensive and time consuming. The US Army Research Laboratory is funding nearly $1 million to a research project for the development of self-diagnostic army vehicles. A research team at Clemson University that specializes in smart materials and the smart-structure mechanics of systems is leading the project. Recently the team revealed its development of a laminate that sandwiches a magnetostrictive material between multiple layers of composite materials. The magnetostrictive material behaves as a self-diagnostic device by responding to a magnetic field or a change in stress, sensing damage (in a way similar to how nerves sense and feed back to the body in response to an injury). Thus, the magnetostrictive material can provide vehicles with real-time self-diagnostic capabilities.
The research team claims that the technology will not be ready for deployment in the field for at least 10 to 20 years. Nevertheless, according to Dr. Oliver Myers of Clemson University, "we want this to not only be a benchtop experiment, but we want to be able to put it on larger structures and larger systems so that once we go from the benchtop coupon level we go to a full-size system."
Typically, as a safety measure, the military replaces vehicle parts after a certain length of time in service, regardless of whether the part is damaged. Diagnostic sensors embedded in the parts could help to save time, reduce unnecessary cost, and prevent waste—enabling the parts to stay in service for as long as possible. Also, because the diagnostic material is incorporated directly into the component's structure during the manufacturing process, no need exists for external sensors (which can add extra costs to the manufacturing process). Diagnostic materials could have a significant impact on operational capabilities and technologies for the army, providing self-diagnostic capabilities to all forms of army transportation (including army helicopters, tanks, trucks, and lightweight aircraft).
Infrastructure applications also exist. As thousands of bridges, parking garages, and other structures age, smart-material technologies could equip infrastructure with self-monitoring and self-sensing capabilities, which will in turn better help engineers to build, maintain, and operate infrastructures. These systems could preempt infrastructure deterioration, save lives, and minimize economic disruption.
Many smart-sensor diagnostic projects are at an extremely formative stage. Nevertheless, smart systems could have a significant effect on future transportation and built environments. In addition to magnetostrictive materials, a wide variety of smart materials could see use in diagnostic applications. For example, piezoelectric sensors could help engineers monitor changes in pressure and changes in shape (especially by means of strain sensing). Thermochromic systems could enable useful visualizations of changes in temperature. Furthermore, smart materials could have self-healing properties, allowing them not only to sense damage, but to self-repair. All these approaches could affect not only the manufacture of vehicles and infrastructure, but also the ways in which systems perform on a day-to-day basis. Players active in the development of smart materials should view smart diagnostic materials as a prime enabling technology for their materials.