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Shape Memory Actuators for Automotive Applications

Author: Date:7/17/2012 9:10:17 PM
Actuators are devices which perform a task, like moving an object, either on demand or in response to certain changes in their environment (temperature, pressure, etc). In a modem car more than 100 actuators are used to control engine, transmission and suspension performance, to improve safety and reliability and enhance driver comfort. Most of these actuators today are electric motors, solenoids, wax motors, vacuum or pressure actuators. Shape memory actuators have not yet penet rated this growing market significantly. This is due in part to low market awareness about shape memory technology, as well as little engineering data for the alloys. However, as the scientific community comes to understand the metallurgy and discuss it more openly, shape memory actuators are becoming increasingly popular for automotive applications. Japan, which leads in this area, has an impressive number of patent applications. About 100 patents for automotive applications are filed annually in Japan, outnumbering American and ,European applications by an order of magnitude. Japannot only leads in the development of new applications, but also in their commercialization (Refs 1-8). Shape memory actuators are also produced commercially in Europe, but no base businesses are known in the United States. This is even more astonishing, as NiTi alloys have been developed in the United States and used for over 20 years (mainly in the aerospace industry).