Plastic monitors itself

Oct 18, 2010
The new composite material is a blend of synthetic and metal that has sensory properties. Credit: Fraunhofer IFAM

A new polymer-metal material that has sensory properties makes it possible to produce plastic component parts that monitor themselves. This material can be combined with various others and used in a variety of different ways. Researchers at Fraunhofer will be unveiling this polymer-metal composite at the ELECTRONICA 2010 fair (Nov. 9-12 in Munich, Germany).

When the storm winds blow, have to show what they can stand up to. The wind blows hard against mills with the force of tons as the tips of the blades plow through the air at more than 200 kilometers per hour. But natural forces not only tear at wind turbines; machine components made of plastic or airplane wings must with stand substantial loads as well.

These days, we normally use sensors to measure whether these components are strained beyond capacity, and it requires a lot of effort to install them into the component parts or glue them onto their surface. Because these monitoring sensors usually only register tensile or pressure loads in a small range, we link several individual sensors to create a single network if we want to record greater areas on the component. Researchers at Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Applied Material Research (IFAM) in Bremen, Germany, are now making it measurably easier to inspect these large-scale components because they have come up with a new especially for components made of plastic. It has sensory properties that can be directly worked or installed into a synthetic component when it is manufactured. This material also meets design requirements.

This new composite material is a blend of plastic and metal better known as polymer-metal composite material. There is a wide range of plastics that are suited as a matrix material for manufacturing this composite, which means that it can easily be tailor-made for a whole series of purposes. But it also has other advantages. First of all, due to its synthetic character, this material can be easily processed. Beyond this, it is lightweight and conducts current and heat very well due to the high proportion of metal in it. What is especially fascinating about this material is the fact that it can be processed with conventional machines used in plastics manufacturing – among other things, in extruders or in injection-molding machines in which the heated liquid plastic is injected into a form where it hardens immediately. Finally, this material can be laminated as a type of mat on large surfaces. In the future, researchers want to use nozzles to apply this conducting plastic as a viscous liquid to geometrically complex surfaces.

This polymer-metal composite material has its high proportion of metal and a special mixing technique to thank for its excellent sensory properties. As Arne Haberkorn, the project manager for composite developments at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Applied Material Research, points out, "we reach a metallic filling proportion of as much as 90 percent in weight in this composite when needed," with the composite's electrical resistance changing if there are loads during operation. The signals can be drawn off with cables on the component part and passed them onto a measuring instrument for analysis.

It was a special challenge for Haberkorn and his colleagues to come up with a technique for evenly processing different metallic substances in liquid . This new technique functions with a whole range of synthetic materials, for instance with polypropylene just as well as with polyamide. Haberkorn is happy to say "this means we can combine our polymer-metal composite material with various synthetics and process them into a wide range of component parts. That includes not only solid and heat-resistant, but also soft-flexible workpieces." Researchers have used various prototypes to demonstrate that the method functions and are now searching for potential industrial users.

Explore further: New tech aims to improve communication between dogs and humans

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Electrical components in a single molding operation

Sep 06, 2004

Siemens researchers have developed a composite made of plastic and metal that can be processed like a plastic, but has the electrical and electromagnetic properties of metal. The new plastic-metal hybrid is ...

Printing of components with functional ink

Apr 08, 2005

Time is money - even in component manufacturing. Researchers can continuously print out three-dimensional metal parts using a rapid manufacturing process. The unique feature is that they can vary the material ...

Plastics and nanoparticles are the perfect combination

Oct 01, 2010

These days, plastic components are vital to many fields of industry - lightweight construction, automobile manufacturing and electrical engineering, to name but a few. Now researchers have found ingenious ...

Wheel in a corset

Sep 22, 2010

Are lightweight construction materials suitable for extremely stressed and safety-relevant components such as car wheel? Tests and calculations show that fiber-reinforced plastics are highly damage-tolerant ...

UM Team Devises Way to Use Metal in Micromachines

Feb 09, 2006

In the world of microtechnology, entire "machines," so tiny the naked eye can't see them, can be manufactured to create things like sensors that deploy car air bags. But conventional micromachine fabrication ...

Recommended for you

Method to reconstruct overt and covert speech

14 hours ago

Can scientists read the mind, picking up inner thoughts? Interesting research has emerged in that direction. According to a report from New Scientist, researchers discuss their findings in converting brain ...

Study says upgrading infrastructure could reduce flood damage

Oct 29, 2014

The severe flooding that devastated a wide swath of Colorado last year might have been less destructive if the bridges, roads and other infrastructure had been upgraded or modernized, according to a new study from the University ...

Walk through buildings from your own device

Oct 29, 2014

Would you like to visit The Frick Collection art museum in New York City but can't find the time? No problem. You can take a 3-D virtual tour that will make you feel like you are there, thanks to Yasutaka ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.