Smart Materials
Smart Materials are those materials whose properties are able to change due to an external stimulus.

What can Smart Materials offer?

Colour-change materials, which are smart materials that change their colour due to an external action, might inspire new designs and aesthetical effects. Others, like shape memory materials, allow the development of self-healing materials which have the ability to “repair themselves”, this means, to repair damage caused by scratching, abrasion or use over time.
Smart materials can change their properties or aesthetics with an external condition which is considered to be dangerous for the product. This changing effect may warn the customer or the operator about a hazardous situation or environment so possible damage can be prevented.
An example that shows this aspect perfectly is smart fabrics. Smart fabrics will allow the incorporation of electronic devices in our clothes, like heart rate monitors for athletes or thermometers in baby clothes. Simple colour, shape or conductivity changes, can show the user whether they are making or not good use of a product.
In order to guarantee the quality of a product and its optimal condition, different indicators can be used: thermochromics, hydrochromics, electrochromics… These materials reveal whether a product has suffered damage, or a quality reduction. Also for machinery or equipments can indicate that these installations are working properly.

Smart material classification depending on the external stimulus

Temperature
Water/Humidity
Chemical
Electric / magnetic field
Memory
Thermochromics change in a reversible or irreversible way their colour according to temperature. The change-temperature is set depending on the future use of the product, this means that there is a customization option. A wide range of temperatures and different colours are reachable but its availability depends on the chosen substance and its nature.

Hydrochromic materials are sensitive to water contact, this means that this substances will turn transparent when they get wet and return to their initial colour when they dry. They can be incorporated in cloths, paper,… They have many applications in security, marketing, toy industry and personal hygiene products.
This type of substances change one of their properties according to a chemical change in their environment, for example, a pH variation (halochromic materials). These substances are widely used as quality indicators in chemical processes and products.

Electricity sensitive materials are both, those that modify their properties according to an electrical impulse and those with conductive properties used as sensors or electronic devices. For example, electrotextiles are blends of fabrics and threads with electrical properties. The magnetocaloric materials reduce its temperature when its magnetization state is modified. The main application of this technology is cooling systems since this substances are an environmentally-friendly alternative to common pollutant coolants.
Shape memory materials are able to recover their initial shape/structure in the presence of stimulus of heat, water, chemicals contact, electricity…). The main application fields of these materials are: security and product quality improvement, since these substances are considered to be self-healing.

How to choose the correct Smart material?

1.The desired effect

First, it has to be defined the parameter that wants to be controlled and the effect that this parameter will produce in the material (change in optical, physical, …, properties). The more accurate and precise the requirements are, the less the costs will be in the subsequent research steps.


2. Smart material choice

A smart material family has to be choosen from all the ones availables that match the derired requirements. In this decision process, it also has to be considered the final field and application this product will have, and the customer for whom the project is intended/adressed.


3. Economic feasability analisys and regulations

A study of the economic benefits that intelligent material provides, give us useful information for estimating the acceptable cost for each product or process. It is also very important to check that the regulations allow us to use it in the desired sector.


4. Functional feasibility and life tests

Once the range of values in which the stimulation can affect the material (leading to a change in their properties) have been stablished, a life test must be performed. This test must prove that the change will take place under the determined conditions only, and not others; then the product has to be tested under real usage conditions.


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