Programming the reactivity of materials is fully in line with the current development of predictive maintenance. The objective is to anticipate future failures on an equipment, a product, a system, to guarantee the safety and reliability of the industrial tool.
The advent of interactive materials to prevent malfunction
From corrective maintenance to predictive maintenance
Corrective maintenance is the most basic approach to maintenance. It consists of repairing – or even replacing – a part once a failure has been observed. This type of maintenance leads to late intervention, and therefore to production line stoppages. A first evolution was the birth of preventive maintenance, which has become proactive. It consists in planning in advance control activities at regular intervals (just like the revision of your vehicle) and reducing the occurrence of breakdowns. Its main pitfall is the additional cost of scheduled interventions without real problems.
Today in the industry, we are witnessing a new mutation, the predictive maintenance. Its aim is to anticipate failures by taking into account the data specific to each installation, in real time and continuously.
Programmed intelligent materials
In this context, the possibility of programming, for example, a paint, so that it changes color in the event of an imminent anomaly, makes sense. This is possible in the world of intelligent materials.
We call it color intelligence, the art of custom controlling the optical response of a material to interact with its environment.
The options for creating devices (sensors, indicators, components,…) that interact with their environment are limitless. The material can become active at temperature (thermochromic materials), to light (photochromic and photoluminescent), to pressure (piezochromic), to the presence of a solvent or a gas (chemochromic).
An example of a partnership
We work with many industrial companies in all sectors to develop solutions that detect anomalies before they become too serious.
As an example, GRTgaz was recently looking for a partner capable of providing an innovative operational response to combat corrosion on the overhead pipes of its network. Defects on pipelines such as corrosion are currently detected by a careful inspection performed by GRTgaz agents in the field.
Our company has been selected as part of GRTgaz’s “Open Innovation Factory”. For Ahmed Fakhry (research engineer, Pipeline department, RICE): “OliKrom convinced us by its clarity and the relevance of its proposals. They are experts in the field of intelligent pigments and we were looking for a preventive solution capable of changing color when corrosion appears. This technology will enable operators to recognize the onset of corrosion on overhead structures through changes in color or luminescence status. This will reduce the cost of repairing and rehabilitating the pipes.”
From innovation to field reality
In fact, with the birth of intelligent materials, a whole new field of predictive maintenance is opening up. The optical property (color, luminescence) of an object is no longer fixed. It can change with its environment, be parameterized as needed. This is what we call color intelligence, an adaptive color day and night on a room, an object, a product.
Our role is to adapt the detection threshold and the optical response of the material. For example, a coating functionalized to become reactive to the temperature outside an industrial chimney. The monitored color change will alert that a malfunction is occurring due to wear of the protective wall.
It is by detecting with precision and in real time the problems and the symptoms of wear of the equipment, that predictive maintenance allows to anticipate the breakdowns. The company’s strategy is then to plan maintenance operations or repairs on the machines without unexpected production stoppages and in complete safety.
An adapted control
When predictive maintenance works effectively as a prevention strategy, it is only performed on machines when necessary. That is, just before a breakdown is likely to occur. This results in several cost savings: reduced equipment maintenance time, reduced production hours spent on maintenance, reduced spare parts costs, and extended equipment life.
The notion of kinetics for material scheduling is therefore extremely important to ensure that the alarm is not raised too early or too late. Our role is to adapt the mechanisms involved to obtain a reversible or irreversible effect. The fatigability of some materials is even used to create a programmed delay. The change of color intervenes only after a certain number of cycle (for example variation with the temperature) allowing to indicate the need for a maintenance.
Visual or automated detection
Depending on the desired prevention, we adjust the optical modulation of the materials. The detection can be visual so that an operator can identify the occurrence of an imminent malfunction. The analysis can also be automated to be monitored by drone, remote monitoring,…
Everything happens at the material level. The selection of the right molecular components allows our teams to program the switching phenomenon so that it is accompanied by a modification of the optical properties in the ultra-violet, visible, near or far infrared spectral range.
Some constrained industrial environments require monitoring without any power supply. The mechanisms used to change the color and/or luminescence of intelligent materials are thermodynamic. It is a passive solution.
No electricity is required. The color change occurs only when the threshold is crossed. Everything is in the initial programming of the material to present the right triggering threshold: temperature, light intensity, level of detection of the targeted gas… It is therefore a robust phenomenon that contrasts with the electronic fragility of electronic sensors: failures, hacking, etc.