A new smart materials process – Multiple Memory Material Technology – developed by University of Waterloo (UW) engineering researchers promises to revolutionize the manufacture of diverse products such as medical devices, micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS), printers, hard drives, automotive components, valves, and actuators. The breakthrough technology will provide engineers with much more freedom and creativity by enabling far greater functionality to be incorporated into medical devices – such as stents, braces, and hearing aids – than is currently possible.
Smart materials, also known as shape memory alloys, have been around for several decades and are well known for their ability to remember a pre-determined shape.
Traditional memory materials remember one shape at one temperature and a second shape at a different temperature. Until now, they have been limited to change shape at only one temperature. Today, with the UW technology, they can remember multiple different memories, each one with a different shape.
This UW technology allows quick and easy embedding of virtually any memory material with additional local memories. The transition zone area can be as small as a few microns in width with multiple zones, each having a discrete transition temperature. Furthermore, creating these zones side by side can allow for a unique and smooth shape change in response to changing temperature. As well, transition zones created side-by-side allow for a unique and smooth shape change in response to changing temperature.
“This ground-breaking technology makes smart materials even smarter,” says Ibraheem Khan, a research engineer and graduate student working with Norman Zhou, a professor of mechanical and mechatronics engineering. “We have developed a technology that embeds several memories in a monolithic smart material. In essence, a single material can be programmed to remember more shapes, making it smarter than previous technologies.”
Several prototypes have been developed to demonstrate this pioneering technology. One mimics a transformer robot. The robot’s limbs transform with increasing temperature at discrete temperatures, whereas in conventional shape memory technology this is limited to only one transformation temperature. A video demonstrating the miniature robot can be seen at research.uwaterloo.ca/watco/technologies/eng_memory_material.asp.
The engineering technology was developed in the Centre for Advanced Materials Joining, based in Waterloo’s department of mechanical and mechatronics engineering. The patent pending technology is available for licensing.
Background material was provided by the University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, and more information can be found atresearch.uwaterloo.ca.