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‘Smart’ materials for safer, more comfortable flights

Active or so-called ‘smart’ materials are those that deform when an electromagnetic field is applied. Although many materials respond to an electromagnetic field, active materials are characterised by the magnitude and speed of their response.
‘Smart’ materials for safer, more comfortable flights
So-called smart structures can be created using these materials by integrating sensors, actuators (devices that act on another structure as a result of the signal sensed) and a control system that controls the response of the actuator to the stimulus. These smart structures can mimic biological responses such as synchronisation with environmental changes or self-repair of damage.

Magnetoelastic materials have gained interest recently for their ability to produce damping of vibration and absorption of energy. The EU-funded ‘Magnetoelastic energy systems for even more electric aircraft’ (Mesema) project was designed to develop systems using magnetoelastic materials incorporated into vibration transducers (that convert the mechanical energy inherent in vibrations into an electrical signal output) that power a dedicated actuator system for aircraft applications.

First, the investigators researched and produced magnetoelastic materials and developed sensors and control modules for integration into smart structures. They then developed actuator control technology using magnetoelastic materials that reduced overall levels of broadband noise in the cabin of turbofan aircraft while significantly reducing vibrations in fuselage components. With similar materials, they produced tuneable vibration absorption to reduce the level of disturbance noise in helicopters.

They also developed an actuator using smart materials that enabled significant improvement in the power output of hydraulic generators. Furthermore, they investigated the use of smart magnetostrictive metals in a prototype airflow-driven emergency electrical generator.

Finally, they developed an innovative position optimisation procedure for actuators used in structural health monitoring. The system reliably identified and localised damage on metallic and composite aerospace components.

In summary, the Mesema project developed a useful database of magnetoelastic materials facilitating future application and exploitation of these smart materials. They developed sensor and actuator technology and integrated it with the active materials for use in noise and vibration control, structural health monitoring and production of electrical energy from mechanical vibrational energy in aircraft applications. Finally, numerous innovations and devices resulting from the design process were independent products that could be commercialised for a variety of other applications. The project was highly successful and generated intense interest on the part of industrial partners, with future commercialisation of results certain to benefit the European economy and the safety and comfort of airline passengers.

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