Smart materials for smart design at Subcontractor InnoDex

Can castings have feelings? Can metal axles talk with gear wheels and bearings? Can algae and moss be used to produce electricity? These types of questions are being discussed daily at the knowledge and inspiration arena, Subcontractor InnoDex.

Subcontractor InnoDex focuses on tomorrow’s materials, designs and manufacturing methods. Professor Dr. Sascha Peters of Haute Innovation – Zukunftsagentur für Material und Technologie in Berlin is coordinating the arena and also giving several lectures during the four days of the fair.

The single biggest theme is smart materials for smart designs in the future. Dr Peters suggests using lignin instead of adhesive, moss as an air filter in cars, or algae as an energy carrier.

“There’s an interesting development happening with algae,” he says. “Not only can we produce energy from them but they can also purify the air. A company called Solaga has developed panels made of living algae that produce heat. The panels attract dirty air that is purified by the algae.”

Living materials are just one area of interest. Metals with a memory, dielectric plastics, piezoelectric materials and materials with a magnetic memory are other fields that Dr Peters mentions in his lectures. He is also fascinated by 4D printing, whereby a 3D-printed component can transform itself into another structure by using externally supplied energy.

“I thought: Why not develop a wheel with a 4D-printed inner structure that’s integrated with the tire?” he says. “It turned out that someone else had already thought of that. When the wheel operates in water, the dimensions change to adapt to the ground surface. Then when it’s dry again, the wheel returns to its normal dimensions.”

Every day at Subcontractor InnoDex features an extensive stage programme discussing issues to do with resource efficiency, sustainability, lightweighting and smart materials – and even whether castings could become smart and acquire “feelings”.

“Do metals have feelings? We must regard metals as information bearers and stop thinking of them as just a gooey mass. That way, the metal also has a value in the longer term, because it’s not just sold per kilo but rather as a functionality,” explains Raul Carlsson, researcher at RISE Research Institutes of Sweden.

During his lecture at Subcontractor InnoDex, Carlsson said that after three years of research, RISE was able to cast something that could be described as “nerves” into a casting. But for what purpose?

“For machines and components in background systems, so they can tell us about their condition. But also for critically important remote components or for large numbers of identical components, so we can detect their wear and tear etc.,” he says.

Prof. Dr. Sascha Peters
Dr. Raul Carlsson