Editorial Feature

Opportunities and Applications for Nanotechnology within the Automotive Component Industry

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Australia has nearly 200 automotive components dealers, with more than 100 local and foreign component manufacturers in the state of Victoria.

Most of the major component manufacturers are foreign-owned subsidiaries of top international firms. According to an IBS report, the Australian component sector witnessed a total turnover of almost A$5 billion in 2000–2001, with Victoria accounting for a major share with 57% of the overall production and also 68% of the total component exports of A$1.6 billion.

Victoria exports a vast range of components including braking equipment, engines, transmissions, seating, driveline components, wheels, friction material, and air-conditioning equipment. Automotive design and training services are among the quickly expanding areas in the industry.

Opportunity for Nanotechnology

In the automotive industry, nanotechnology is believed to have a prevalent effect on the future of automotive products and manufacturing processes. In due course, these “new” performance characteristics will be significantly boosted by continuous improvements in the thermal, optical, electrical, structural, catalytic, and magnetic characteristics of materials and their biocompatibility.

Control and monitoring systems as well as innovative new materials are among the wide areas of the automotive sector, wherein nanotechnology can be implemented.

Monitoring and Control Systems

  • Micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) are tiny motors and sensors, which roughly have the size of a dust particle. MEMS can be integrated as indicators of stress and corrosion rates in materials, or can be used on the exteriors of truck structures to minimize friction and improve aerodynamic efficiency.
  • High-power switches in ignition devices.
  • Electronics can be made in which nanotubes have been used as a semiconductor, instead of silicon. Auto-assembly of nanoscale electronic components and nanoelectronics based on quantum effects are other possibilities.
  • In electronic display screens, carbon nanotubes can potentially be utilized for flat screen display technology.
  • Advanced Virtual Reality design technologies integrate telerobotics (with sensors incorporated with nanotechnology), computer-aided design, multimedia, ergonomics simulation (as in mannequin tools), process simulation, and computer-generated imagery. Such technologies not only boost the speed but also lower the cost of new vehicle designs.
  • On-board diagnostic indicators are provided by nanotechnology integrated into sensors and monitoring devices. These indicators can be used to improve the efficiency of repair and maintenance activities related to mechanical components and tires.
  • The effectiveness of emission control systems and other environmental requirements can be monitored with nano-based sensors.
  • On-board technologies such as automated vehicle control (AVC) systems help in ensuring traffic safety. These systems can help vehicle drivers in obstacle detection as well as infrared sensing and anti-collision sensing while driving in the dark. Automated driving can be achieved through more advanced AVC technologies. Nanotechnology can play a role in the sensing devices utilized in these technologies as well as in sophisticated radar systems.

New Materials to Improve Performance and Reduce Cost

  • These include new, lightweight and more robust materials like surface applications, thin layers on bearings and gliding elements, and ultra-strong lightweight materials. Such materials are used in brake fixtures, suspensions, vehicle bodies, sway bars, and wheels. Carbon nanotubes-based alloys, if used as an alternative for current automobile chassis, would result in reduced weight and excellent strength.
  • Compact fuel cells and a range of fuel substitutes can be used in the latest energy-efficient engines, next-generation supercapacitors and batteries for storing energy in hybrid electric vehicles, and new varieties of solar cells that can be used as a supplementary source of energy in surface coatings. Nano-catalysts along with membrane technology will play a pivotal role in making fuel cells economically feasible and substituting the internal combustion engine.
  • Novel ceramics based on nanotechnology are utilized in engine parts.
  • Better internal combustion exhaust control can be achieved by using nanoparticles in catalytic processes.
  • Better vibration dampeners based on magnetic nanofluids.
  • Innovative electrostatic filters based on nanotechnology.
  • Nanofluids are used in new kinds of coolants.
  • Nanoparticles are used as paint additives to achieve new coloration effects, and better durability and hardness in materials. The use of nano-polymer composite panels in automobile frames will also allow electrostatic painting, which would considerably cut down paint costs as well as environmental problems.
  • New plastics based on nanotechnology have more improved strength.
  • Nanotechnology help ensure that fibers are bound sufficiently tight so that they are impervious to water and dirt. The conductive property of fabrics utilized in car seats can be enhanced by using metal nanoparticles like nickel and silver.
  • Nanotechnology can be utilized to regulate the optical characteristics of glass so that it passes only the required frequencies of light and exhibits self-cleaning properties.
  • Nanomaterials can be utilized to substitute harmful reagents as well as to reduce waste during manufacturing (the so-called “exact” manufacturing). Harmful emissions can be further reduced with nano-scale metal oxide ceramic catalysts.

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