As part of Evolution 2019, Hethel Innovation will be exploring how innovative materials can greatly improve the design and functionality of products. Whilst a good design can dramatically improve the product, it is almost useless if the wrong type of material is used.

A type of material which is perhaps underutilised in manufacturing is the smart material. Reactive structures in which properties can change by exposure to certain stimuli, including heat, electricity, moisture and tension, smart materials have found great recent successes in the aerospace sector.

Speaking of aerospace, our first panel member of the design and adaption section has been confirmed. Keep your eyes peeled soon for an announcement!

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But what are smart materials? How can they improve my product’s design? Why should I use them?

Due to the vast and ranging properties of smart materials, there have been momentous advances in the field of material science. As man grabs greater control of the world’s resources, converting nature into material gain and innovating more complex products to alleviate the woes of the everyday man, smart materials have found themselves growing greater in popularity. The properties of smart materials have found them beginning to be introduced into areas outside of manufacturing.

It is no surprise then that the qualities of smart materials can develop products, creating a new purpose, prolonging their lives in sectors as wide-reaching as health monitoring, self-repair devices, defence, aerospace, nuclear and waste reduction. 

A small aerospace organisation called NASA (Heard of it? No, me neither before I started writing this) are leading the way in utilising smart materials.

The most conventional type of smart material, the Shape Memory Alloy (SMA), these materials will distort and recover when put in contact with low and subsequently hot temperatures. The ability to react to temperature changes reduces the need to install sensors and electronics; knowing a material is going to react at a certain temperature reduces the need for a sensor to be installed. As well as replacing electronic systems, SMAs can replace conventional materials to create frictionless systems, requiring less maintenance. It is no surprise to see then, that SMAs are utilised in high-risk industries such as aerospace, military, and oil and gas.

The possibilities of smart materials are endless, and at Evolution 2019 we will discuss how designs can be improved, both by form and function. By bringing together industries much further than manufacturing and engineering alone, we can begin to discover how the use of smart materials can be introduced into new markets, creating new opportunities, and developing our region’s knowledge economy.

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