Friday, February 17, 2006

Advanced Materials – Speeding the Luge in the Olympics

The Winter Olympic Games in Turin are now under way. It’s interesting to see emerging technologies at work in the winter sports. Austenitic steel is one example. Its high ductility and high tensile strength makes it an ideal element for the metal runners on the luge where riders reach 90 miles per hour and the timing of the race goes out to the thousandth of a second. Austenitic steel is used by the US luge team which contains precise levels of iron, manganese, chromium, and other metals. When the runners kit the ice, it changes into a form of Martensite. For some, Austenitic steel is not an emerging technology having been invented in 1882, but its application in the Olympics makes it interesting. Virtual Instrumentation brings measurement technology to steel production such as this example of corrosion testing.

Aside from the Olympics there are numerous advances in materials technology. The Airbus A380 pioneered the use of many new materials to support the large size of the plane. Advanced aluminum alloys and carbon fiber reinforced plastic materials were used in over 40% of the plane. GLAss fiber REinforced Aluminum GLARE weighs up to 30% less and allows for reorientation of the fibers in order to improve strength in a particular direction. This allowed the A380 engineers to “reorient” the material for various jobs on the airframe.

Advanced materials require new testing techniques which can be found in the area of non-destructive testing which has seen improved techniques. Non destructive testing falls into several categories including mechanical and optical, radiation penetration, electromagnetic and electronic, sonic and ultrasonic, thermal and infrared, and chemical and analytical. Virtual Instrumentation tests out various composite materials. Here’s an example from the University of Southampton comparing the strength of GLARE, Carbon-fiber reinforced plastic, and aluminum alloy.

Another emerging technology in advanced materials is metallic glass which provides improved mechanical properties such as high tensile strength and large elastic strains. Johns Hopkins researchers found that metallic glass which is formed by super cooling of liquid metal does not produce a completely random arrangement of molecules as previously thought, but rather an orderly arrangement of 7 or 15 atoms around a central atom, giving a non-conventional structure, but a structure nevertheless.

Best regards,
Hall T.

11 Comments:

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