Smart Materials


Have you ever heard the term smart materials? The use of the word smart is increasingly common within our vocabulary. Words like smartphone, smartwatch or smart TV are part of our daily lives and refer to multifunctional products, capable of performing tasks beyond the basic ones. The same thing happens in the case of materials, due to smart materials or intelligent materials. Smart materials or intelligent materials are materials that react to different external stimuli. Within this context, in today’s blog we will tell you in detail what these materials are capable of doing, what types of smart materials exist, some of their applications and what are the benefits they can bring to both a product and a indsutrial processMat_Mat. Inteligentes_guias luz_2

What are Smart Materials?

As we anticipated, smart materials, also known as active or multifunctional materials, are materials capable of reacting, reversibly or irreversibly, to different external stimuli. In general, this reaction, or response, is carried out by varying one or more of its properties. But, what are the main external stimuli that can activate these smart materials? Among these these external stimuli are temperature changes, humidity variations, chemical compounds, pressure variations, pH, electric current or magnetic fields. On the other hand, the response exerted by these materials is presented in the form of a variation of some of their properties, such as color, shape, size, viscosity, crystallographic arrangement or opacity.

Types of Smart Materials

Depending on the stimulus that activates the material, or its response, there are different types of smart materials. In addition, based on their ability to return to the initial state, all smart materials can be classified as reversible or non-reversible. Below, we present a classification with the most common smart materials, according to the stimuli that activate them and their response.
Below, we present a classification with the most common smart materials, according to the stimuli that activate them and their response.

Chromoactive materials

This group of smart materials is characterized by its ability to change color when exposed to an external stimulus. However, depending on the stimulus that activates the material, there are five types:

Electrochromic materials

Electrochromic materials achieve color changes by passing electrical current through them. This type of material, less developed than the previous ones, allows great control through electronics.

Halochromic materials

In this case, halochromic materials are capable of changing color with changes in pH. In addition, they have been used for years as pH indicators in chemical laboratories.

Photochromic materials

In this case, the color change of the material is generated after exposure to a certain light. Typically, these materials are activated using ultraviolet (UV) wavelengths.

Thermochromic materials

The color change occurs after a temperature variation. These types of materials are prepared to change color when they exceed an established temperature limit. As there is a wide variety of colors and temperature ranges, they are one of the most interesting options within the industrial field.

Hydrochromic materials

In hydrochromic materials, the color change occurs when the material comes into contact with water.

Phtoactive materials

Unlike the previous ones, photoactive materials are capable of emitting light under the action of different external stimuli. Within this group we distinguish two types:



Electroluminiscent materials

In these materials, the emission of light is achieved by connecting them to an electric current. This allows to have a control of its operation quite precise by means of electronics.

Photoluminiscent materials

In this case, photoluminescent materials are capable of emitting light when exposed to a certain wavelength, normally within the ultraviolet (UV) range.


Shape-shifting materials

Smart Materials with shape memory

These materials are capable of recovering their initial shape after being deformed. A clear example of this type of material is Nitino, an alloy of nickel and titanium.

Self-repairing Smart Materials

As their name suggests, they are materials capable of recovering from damage. For their recovery they usually require the action of temperature.

Smart Materials with volume change

Finally, materials with volume change are those capable of modifying their size under the action of an external element. Metals with a high coefficient of expansion could be considered as materials capable of changing their volume; however, the clearest example of this behavior is the hydrogel, capable of increasing its volume up to 400 times in contact with water.


Smart Materials Applications

As can be seen, there is currently a wide variety of smart materials. For this reason, the range of possible applications is very wide. Here are some of the most interesting applications:Nescafé-inglés

Products with new design
The use of intelligent materials makes it possible to achieve differentiating effects that add great value to the final product. A clear example of this are materials that change color when exposed to sunlight or when in contact with the temperature of the hand.
WOW effect
Due to their ability to change some of their properties, they are of great interest in sectors such as advertising. By means of different stimuli it is possible to achieve the appearance or disappearance of logos or images. Here is an example of an ATRIA project where a thermochromic ink has been used to achieve this effect.
Security element
One of the most interesting applications for smart materials is their use as warning sensors. In particular, thermochromics can be used as a hazard temperature warning. In addition, they do not require electrical power and have reversible operation, so their possibilities are very broad.
Quality control
Another interesting application is their use as elements to ensure that a product has not been outside the recommended working conditions (temperature, light or humidity). For example, if a product should not be in humid environments or in contact with water, a hydrochromic element can be used to warn of this.
Multifuncional products
Thanks to smart materials, it is possible to endow products with new functionalities. For example, a conventional polymer can be modified to have the ability to emit light, repair itself or conduct electricity.


Smart Materials Advantages

The main advantage of smart materials is that they provide the material with new capabilities without the need for sensors, actuators or electronics. For this reason, it is possible to achieve products that interact with the environment or with people without the need for them to be connected to the electrical grid.

How to introduce a Smart Material in a product

But, how is this technique carried out? In ATRIA we study each case with the maximum detail to carry out each of the smart materials projects. Below, we show you, in a very summarized way, the main steps to incorporate a smart material to a product or process.atria

Select material
Depending on our client’s needs, we select the material or technology that best suits each case. Within this selection, several options are considered and the technical and economic feasibility of all of them is studied.
Materilas development
In case there is no solution in the market, ATRIA develops customized solutions for each case.
Phrototype preparation
Preparation of laboratory scale prototypes. Once the material has been selected, laboratory-scale prototypes are prepared. This stage is essential to evaluate the feasibility of the idea.
Conducting tests and trials
In order to validate the proposed solution, all functionality and resistance tests are carried out.
Industrial implementation
All our projects are aimed at industrial implementation, therefore, in the last stage, the solution is adapted to the production process of our customer.


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