Monday, March 24, 2014

Nanotechnology for engineering applications

If you wish to deign alienware, you would be better off asking a science fiction author to suggest an approach for science. Which is why, yesterday's science fiction is today's technology.

A number of reasons have contributed to the fact that we are now looking towards the applications of smaller and smaller equipment. Nanotechnology can be used to compliment almost any other technology as it allows for 'more' literally. In some cases, nanotechnology is needed simply because only a component that small could fit in there without much disturbance or due to physical dimensions. Nanometer scale sensors make the possibilities of even the craziest ideas look real.

The idea of nano robots is one of the factors that drives nano scientists' motivation. It might be extremely useful to create a nano robot that is equipped with a nano scale sensor to measure localized real time stresses in structures. Structural integrity of a engineering equipment, constructions and large sized installations is vital in most cases. Materials engineers usually have to perform non destructive and destructive tests time and again to make sure that the structure will hold. This results in a lot of man hours and expenses. Furthermore, it is mostly mixed qualitative and quantitative decision by the engineer about when the structure needs to be reinforced, totally replaced or retested for cracks or failures again. An engineer might be wrong (human error) and might delay the test above a duration before which the structure might fail or the engineer might wrongly predict the duration period itself. This can result in catastrophic structural failures and result in either the equipment being shut down / totally replaced or even accidents.

To avoid such errors and to further add continuous monitoring, nano sensors can be placed within the structure itself which can then monitor the structure for local stresses. The combination of local stresses at different point can then give the overall view of stresses in the structure. When nano sensors are placed within the structure itself and are able to send the data to a monitoring computer, it would be able to not only monitor the real time stresses of the structure, but it would also give statistics for how the structure is used, what tasks put the most amount of stresses (and hence fatigue) on the structure. A higher fatigue would mean a higher degradation and early failure of the structure. Such statistics from actual real time monitoring rather than by timed testing can be of more use. As compared to the timed and scheduled testing, real time monitoring will give usage data of each second, enabling the computer to plot a graph of the statistics. This data will help engineers decide how to best use their equipment so that its structure gets minimum fatigue. In short, this will result in optimization and minimum wastage.

This can be easily done by using nano sensors that detect stresses. Piezoelectric materials would be a good category to start looking for the possible implementation materials and designs as they convert compression and tension into electricity (that can be used as the signal for computer to interpret).