Making The Right Choice: Smart Materials

APMEN interviewed Prof Dr Tim Hosenfeldt, senior VP, corporate innovation, Schaeffler, on the importance of material choice and the application of smart materials in the manufacturing and production sector.

Material choice plays a pivotal role in manufacturing. Smart materials go one step further by adding intelligence to these materials. Such materials act to increase productivity and improve safety within production facilities.

Q: How do innovations in material science impact the metalworking industry as well as automation?


A fully automated assembly produces complete
rolling bearings from inner ring, outer ring, balls, cage, and lubricant grease.

Prof Dr Tim Hosenfeldt (TH): This is a big challenge. For instance, for a lightweight design you need higher load capacities. As such, very tough materials with high wear resistance. The working load is getting higher. This is why we develop our steel quality and its cleanliness as it is important to have lower imperfections. For our industry the material is bearing or standard steel. With nanotechnology in advanced surface technology we can establish a very high working load and toughness, create a high wear resistance, and increase the hardness by four to five times.

We can also create a very ductile material with a low Young’s modulus with nanotechnology. We are optimising the material to our design properties; creating in this case a high ratio between hardness to Young’s modulus. With nanotechnology we can create nanostructures or nanolayers to make a material very hard without some of the negative side effects.

Q: What is your take on smart materials?

TH: Smart materials are important now and will be increasingly important for the future. As we develop more ways of sensing and continue to investigate the application of different materials in the development of new types of sensors, new ways of recording and acting upon external forces and stimuli, such as load, force, velocity, temperature, and so on, will become possible.

Beyond this, the next step to getting smart is to make use of data, and consider it a valuable resource. We need to understand this data and transform it into knowledge. From the knowledge we can make smarter decisions and improve how we act and design new products. The data gives us knowledge on how our tools or products are being used each day which enables us to optimise it. This is important in say predictive maintenance, whereby, maintenance can be scheduled based on real-time feedback from a product or system, ultimately extending the product/systems lifetime.

Q: Would smart materials indicate when a component needs to be replaced?

TH: This is not what I understand as smart, ie: when you have to order a new component. It is better than not knowing of course, but the best is that you have a smartness that can measure the stress or the strain for instance, and say okay if I run the bearing a certain length then we will face a problem.

Q: A lot of the data collected is unstructured. How do you make use of such data?

TH: Yes, of course. We have to divide between embedded systems and pass the data directly with what we are doing at the moment. We have developed for example, production machine 4.0, where we have a lot of sensors. We are able to bring this data into the cloud but this is in the development stage at the moment. This is the future to have a private or hybrid cloud, where we bring the data in and share it with our customers. We can then offer new services from this for the customers.

Q: How is automation changing your business model and how you design products?


Dr Tim Hosenfeldt believes smart materials will be
increasingly important for the future.

TH: The increasing use of automation brings extreme change in production. This means working in networks with real-time data. Working on real-time data brings the connection between different areas on a production floor and logistics much closer together. The ability to track components, and know at every moment where some material or component is in real-time, is a great capability to have.

The industry has increasingly become more automated with cooperation between human and machine being a clear trend. Machines can support humans in carrying heavier objects or working in dangerous places, for instance. Many developed countries are seeing an increase in the age of their workers, as birthrates decline and people are living longer. As people get older they may need better support for heavy work.

This is one example where machines can assist humans in performing their tasks more productively and extending our capabilities.

APMEN Machine Tools, Oct 2016

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  • Last modified on Monday, 17 October 2016 06:12
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