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Are you ready to be really smart?
For some years now, the Smart avalanche has crowded our lives. We might think that we know everything about smart mobility and can even be fed up of hearing about smart objects but the key question is … are you ready to be smart?
Some smart materials such as piezoelectric are well known but a new wave of this stuff jointly with the new simulation technologies as well as a better understanding of their capabilities have opened new challenges and opportunities that go beyond the ordinary to enter into the science fiction arena. Can you imagine a plane that varies its geometry without any actuator, that heals itself in the event of sudden damage or that monitors its health in a continuous loop? These are only some of the possibilities that smart materials bring to the structural design scenario.
During years mechanical engineers efforts have been focused on increasing the amount of composites in the airframes design in order to reduce weight but it seems that we have reached a point where a new step should be taken. The new weight reduction will come from replacing current heavy fittings and actuators by a simply smart material mechanism, lighter and easy to maintain. But the possibilities opened by the Shape Memory Polymers (SMP) go beyond the mere weight reduction; in the far future they will enable more efficient aircrafts, whose aerodynamic properties can be modified in order to fit the optimum at every speed or circumstance.
Thinking about the cracks that flow along the fuselage or the wing of the plane where you are comfortably flying may be at least disturbing; fortunately airlines spend huge amounts of money in exhaustive maintenance programs that makes your trip absolutely safe regardless the cracks the aircraft may have. Graphene and other self-healing materials could not only reduce the maintenance thresholds, but also increase safety as critical locations could be monitored in real time and small damages could magically disappear thanks to these materials properties.
The integration of these technologies in future airframe developments is feasible but the extent to which it could be done is not so certain. The high cost of these alloys and composites, as well as the current in-ability to industrialize their production makes difficult its adoption in the next years but it is worth imagining, isn’t it?