Composites get smart: Interview of an expert

28 AUG 2018

The combination of the structural performance and design flexibility of composite materials with miniaturised electronics technologies opens up new possibilities for the manufacture of multi-functional components. From sensing and diagnostics, to human/machine interfaces, to energy harvesting, the potential for a new generation of smart composites is vast. EuCIA's annual seminar, Smart Composites for a Better World, will explore the opportunities offered by this emerging market.

We spoke to Mathieu Schwander of IPC (Centre Technique Industriel de la Plasturgie et des Composites), and leader of the Hyprod2 project on smart composites, who will deliver a presentation at the EuCIA event in Brussels on 24 October.

What is your definition of a smart composite?

A smart composite is a structure providing multi-functionality – i.e. more than mechanical strength and the other features of 'traditional' composites – thanks to the integration of specific materials and/or electronic components. These additional functions could include identification, sensing, communication, adaptive structures and more.

What electronic technologies could be combined with composites and how would this be achieved?

A large array of technologies can be used, from standard surface mounted devices (SMD), to more recent developments in printed electronics and micro-components which have great potential for smart composites. They can be placed either on the surface or within the composite laminate and at different stages of manufacturing. The exact integration mode must be chosen so as to guarantee effective operation of the device whilst minimising any impact on the composite's primary function.

Could you provide an example of a smart composite application? 

Structural health monitoring is one of the main applications for smart composites. Distributed sensors (strain gauges, optical fibres) allow for the monitoring of strain in the part and detection of potential failures. This application has been known for many years and is already being implemented in industrial applications, but integration methods can be improved so as to allow its wider use, such as in parts manufactured using high-volume processes.

What are the main requirements for smart composite products in different market sectors?

The primary requirement is the mechanical integrity of the final product, and appropriate design rules must be established or validated according to each industry’s standards. Smart composites must also comply with the electronics environment of each application and perform reliability during the product’s lifetime. Last but not least, the product's final price must be equal or lower than assembled solutions.

What does the composites industry need to do in order to take advantage of the new smart composites market?

The development of new architectures taking advantage of the specific features of composites will foster innovation and market differentiation. To achieve that, based on our experience in 'plastronics,' the composites industry must engage in truly combined composites-electronics design bringing together experience from both the composites and electronics worlds. Companies will also need technological platforms to mature concepts before bringing them into production.

What are the objectives of the Hyprod2 programme?

The Hyprod2 platform aims at providing industry with advanced equipment (at pre-industrial scale) for functional semi-finished product development, processing, structural and functional control, and repair for effective integration, as well as a full service including design and process simulation so as to develop smart composite products taking into consideration their whole lifecycle. The overall budget for the platform is €6 million over four years with strong financial support from Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region. Access to the platform is possible through direct services or collaborative projects.

What will your presentation at the EuCIA conference cover?

I will present our vision of the opportunities raised by smart composites in the different application markets, as well as the main technical challenges that must be addressed in order to be successful in this field. Real-world examples will be shown to illustrate these aspects.


The programme and registration details for the EuCIA seminar Smart Composites for a Better World are available here

EuCIA's annual conferences form part of the association's mission to promote the applications of composite materials and their benefits compared with traditional materials such as steel and aluminium. The seminars focus on business and technology trends which will drive the future development of the composites industry.


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