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The expert's eye

What are smart materials?

A so-called "intelligent" material (pigment, ink, paint, coating...) is capable of spontaneously changing its physical properties (notably its shape, viscosity, color...) in response to natural or provoked excitation. These can come from outside or inside the material: temperature variations, mechanical constraints, electric or magnetic fields.

This generation is opposed to conventional materials, which are inert by definition, and whose properties always remain the same regardless of the stresses to which the material is subjected.

An intelligent material is therefore able to adapt its response, to signal a change in the environment and, in some cases, to take corrective action. It can behave like a sensor (detect signals), an actuator (perform an action on its environment) or sometimes like a processor (process, compare, store information).

smart materials

The example of X-chrome materials

One of the most important families of smart materials is the X-chrome materials. These materials have the ability to change color under the effect of an external excitation (temperature, light, pressure, humidity, etc.). Depending on the disturbance, we talk about thermochromic, photochromic, piezochromic, chemochromic materials...

Such a generation of materials completely disrupts our reference points. Our surrounding world is now made of a single color. With X-Chromes, it is a true intelligence of colors that is offered to us.

The color of these materials becomes "adaptive/interactive" with reversible, irreversible or memory effect properties. It is thus possible to detect by a simple change of color structural weaknesses in the coating of an aircraft, a temperature threshold exceeded to signal the risk of burning...

 

Some applications of smart materials

The list of intelligent materials is growing, as is the field of applications in industry, housing, medicine, biology and leisure. This is a real revolution on the scale of materials that will rapidly change our daily lives.

Some smart materials are, for example, sensitive to glucose for controlled release of insulin, or to electric or magnetic fields for drug delivery.

In the field of building and energy improvement, certain ionic polymers make it possible to make the glazing of a window intelligent. The material is able to be opaque or transparent in a few seconds for better light management in a building.

With smart textiles, clothes are becoming more and more active, and take care of us. Built-in sensors record our heart and breathing rhythms, LEDs integrated into a blanket cure jaundice in newborns, thermosensitive tablets change color according to temperature or UV exposure and prevent heat stroke...

smart material breakthrough innovation

Smart materials, a breakthrough innovation

Too many industrial developments are still stopped in the field of intelligent materials

"A smart material is not just another pigment filler. By definition, a smart material is extremely sensitive to its environment. The slightest variation during synthesis or the simple addition of an additive transforms the surrounding environment and therefore the smart property: shift of the color change threshold, modification of the color, loss of performance. It is this lack of knowledge and technical mastery that explains why many industrial projects are still being halted. Today, OliKrom responds to the problems of industrialists by supporting them in their innovation process." Jean-François Létard, founder and director of OliKrom

If we consider the world of color, for example, the handling of an X-chrome pigment is far from simple. To make production reliable, it is necessary to understand the complex mechanisms at work in these materials, otherwise we will not be able to master anything. We are far from the classical issues of formulation of a pigmentary charge in a paint and/or an ink. It is more a question of thermodynamics of the phenomena of phase transition, photochemical cascade...

This also requires the use of new characterization tools. For example, the color of a material in industry is often controlled by colorimetry, but what about a material that changes according to its environment? Implementing this disruptive innovation in the industrial world is not so simple. It requires adapting production lines, training teams...

Another major difficulty is the sensitivity of the intelligent material to its environment. Each change in raw materials, reaction medium, shear forces, and heat treatments will lead to production instability.

The challenge is to control the interactivity of these materials until the finished product. This means controlling the maintenance of the desired "intelligent" property throughout the manufacturing chain: color, triggering threshold, speed, reversibility/irreversibility.

But nothing is insurmountable. These difficulties are barriers to entry for a competitor who would like to copy your innovation. By integrating an intelligent material on one of your products, you gain access to interactivity, it is a way to "rebrand" an article, to "rejuvenate" it.

 

OliKrom, a team of experts in intelligent materials at your service

We have created a new generation of autonomous smart materials to control and tailor the smart property according to the needs and constraints of our industrial partners.

Based on fundamental deeptech research, our technologies enable the creation, durability and security of tomorrow's intelligent coatings.