Responding to bad vibes

German engineers are developing responsive components that could be used to detect and cancel out vibrations in mechanical structures, from cars to machine tools.


German engineers are developing responsive components that could be used to detect and cancel out vibrations in mechanical structures, from cars to machine tools.


The team, from Darmstadt’s Fraunhofer Institute for Structural Durability and System Reliability, is investigating the possibility of integrating active materials, such as piezoelectric ceramics, within a range of different mechanical structures. The idea is that these materials will work as both sensors by detecting and reporting vibration to a control unit, and actuators that dampen this vibration by inducing an appropriate counter signal into the structure.


Researcher Dr Martin Thomaier explained that the approach offers significant advantages over conventional passive damping systems which tend to reach their operational limits when confronted with the high-frequency vibrations present in many modern engineering structures.


The team is investigating potential applications of the technology on a number of different lab-based machines. One of the most promising, said Thomaier, is in the car industry, where the technology could be used to reduce noise and potentially improve ride and handling.


‘We see many applications in the automotive industry. Active components could, for instance, be mounted between a chassis and vehicle body to actively counter the vibrations resulting from tyre/road contact,’ he said.


While the technology is unlikely to be commercialised in the near future, it has generated a high level of interest in the automotive industry. Uptake could be helped by the fact that piezoceramic materials, once seen as prohibitively expensive, are coming down in cost thanks to their growing use in fuel-injection systems.


Thomaier added that another promising application is in the design of machine tools, where active components could be used to reduce vibration and therefore improve accuracy.