As smart as paint

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AFTER smart phones have become all the rage it is surprising that a humble application could earn such an epithet.

But boffins at Strathclyde uni have developed a ‘smart’ paint for application on structures such as bridges, wind turbines and mines.

And although it won’t keep you updated with the latest feed from Facebook, it does have properties which could save millions — and also save lives.

The paint can detect microscopic faults in materials long before damage occurs and allow parts to be changed.

The environmentally-friendly paint uses nanotechnology to detect movement in large structures, and could well shape the future for safety monitoring.

Traditional methods of assessing large structures are complex, time-consuming and use expensive instrumentation with costs spiralling into millions of pounds each year.

The smart paint costs a mere fraction of this and can be sprayed on to any surface with electrodes attached to detect structural damage well before failure occurs.

Dr Mohamed Saafi, of Strathclyde uni’s department of civil engineering, said: “The development of this smart paint technology could have far-reaching implications for the way we monitor the safety of large structures all over the world.

“There are no limitations as to where it could be used and the low-cost nature gives it a significant advantage over the current options available in the industry.

“The process of producing and applying the paint also gives it an advantage as no expertise is required and monitoring itself is straightforward”.

The paint is created using a recycled waste product known as fly ash and highly-aligned carbon nanotubes.

When mixed it has a cement-like property which makes it particularly useful in harsh environments.

Dr Saafi continued: “The process of monitoring involves, in effect, a wireless sensor network.

“The paint is interfaced with wireless communication nodes with power harvesting and warning capability to remotely detect any unseen damage such as micro-cracks in a wind turbine’s concrete foundation”.