For centuries, paints of various types have been used to decorate and protect a variety of materials and surfaces. Contemporary paints and coatings fulfill the varied requirements of hundreds of thousands of applications. For example, "paint" ranges from the broad group of environmentally-friendly latex paints that many consumers use to decorate and protect their homes and the translucent coatings that line the interior of food containers, to the chemically-complex, multi-component finishes that automobile manufactures apply on an assembly line. Despite their near-limitless variety contemporary coatings are invariably a "passive" type of coating.
An active paint that would enable military vehicles, if corroded or scratched, to detect and heal themselves may soon be available. The vehicles will be able to change color on the battlefield, creating instant camouflage and rendering tanks, helicopters and military trucks virtually invisible. It sounds like science fiction but the US Army with the New Jersey Institute of Technology claim they have already developed the technology to make this a reality.
The smart paint includes a flexible sensor layer, a switch layer and a visual display layer. The flexible sensor layer senses particular environmental conditions and the visual display layer provides visual indication of the conditions sensed.
If corrosion is detected, sensors embedded within the coating will collect and analyze the data relating to the problem and initiate a suitable response such as either a healing operation or by sending a signal to army personnel to alert them of the impaired coating. If tanks find themselves in battle the coating will be able to change colour so that they will immediately be camouflaged. The coatings could also reduce the sensitivity of explosives and thus make them safer for soldiers to handle.
Painting power and displays in the UK
Advances in smart paint are also being made at the University of Warwick, UK where they hope to see injection moulding technology being used to paint an electronic power system onto plastic surfaces.
A development that could lead to moving displays on bottles has received $600,000 (£300,000) in funding. The objective is to paint an electronic power system onto plastic surfaces using injection moulding technology. The technology promises a cheap and easy method of painting thin films of an electronically active surface onto a manufactured plastic component or product.
Professor Gordon Smith from WMG at the University of Warwick says: "This technology opens up a wealth of possibilities, plastic drink bottles could have moving displays created as an integral part of the bottle - or instead of tracking products by hiding RFID tags in them the whole product or a major plastic component of it could effectively be turned into a giant impossible to remove tag."
The £300,000 from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) via Warwick Innovative Manufacturing Research Centre (IMRC) will be of enormous help in refining this new technology.
The University of Warwick now seeks two postgraduate students to help the researchers with this work at the Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG).
Interested people in the postgraduate opportunity should email G.F.Smith@warwick.ac.uk.
References: Patent Storm, The University of Warwick, News BBC
For more attend Printed Electronics Europed 2008 being held in Germany next month.