PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. - ARDEC engineers being recognized as recipients of the 2009 Thomas Alva Edison Patent Award from left, James Zunino, Joseph Argento, Laura Battista, and Nelson Colon.

PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. - Children, and often adults, dream of having supernatural powers such as the ability to blend in with their environment like a chameleon.

A four-member team of Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center engineers here paired up with a team from the New Jersey Institute of Technology and brought these dreams one step closer to reality, earning themselves a 2009 Thomas Alva Edison Patent Award in the process.

The Thomas Alva Edison Award is presented by the Research and Development Council, which has recognized New Jersey inventors who have impacted society by changing scientific, technological, economic and social aspects of people's everyday lives.

The ARDEC and NJIT team earned this award for their work developing a smart coating system capable of operating in conditions that are not ordinarily predetermined. The team received their patent for the smart coating system, patent number 7,244,500, in July 2007.

"Smart coatings are the next generation of materials and coatings able to sense, analyze, and react to their surrounding in real-time," said James Zunino, one of the four members on the team.

ARDEC engineers being awarded along with Zunino are Laura Battista, Nelson Colon and the recently retired, Dr. Joseph Argento.

The coatings Zunino and his teammates are working to improve are the same kinds we apply to our cars or building structures to prevent corrosion or other minor damage due to the surrounding environment.

"These future 'smart' coatings will involve far more, however, than simply brushing on paint from a can" Argento said. "Rather than paints, we are talking about coatings, which could be electroplated, or put on with physical vapor deposition qualities. They could be metallic, in the form of a flexible decal, or have other qualities."

Collaboratively, the team agrees that the major driving force for the development of smart coating systems is material degradation, corrosion and material fatigue.

According to the National Association of Corrosion Engineers the estimated direct costs of corrosion and corrosion repair in the United States is $276 billion, which is approximately 3.1 percent of the nation's gross domestic product.

"Today's coatings protect surfaces from a variety of factors including corrosion, chemical biological agents, ultra-violet and oxidation effects, but are not capable of self-correcting or altering the user if anomalies such as defects, damage, scratches, voids exist within the coating or substrate, but the functionality of the coating can be defeated with something as simple as chipping or cracking." Zunino said.

Technological advances are allowing engineers to create a coating that can almost be described as being alive.

"The problem with the coatings on today's weapon systems is they are not sustainable- after they are applied - they cannot self-heal, modify their color or let the user know if the coating is being compromised in any way, such as corrosion. The effects of corrosion are becoming more prominent as new equipment acquisition is slowing down relying more on servicing the current and aging systems," Battista said.

However, if the paint cracks in a particular area, the newly-developed coating will sense this and an embedded capsule could fill in the area to continue protecting the product. Eventually the engineers would like to take this development one step farther.

"Much like skin, the coating could sense changes in its environment, such as temperature, pressure, flow, humidity, impact, damage, and numerous other "senses" and respond to these stimuli. If it's scratched, or the surface is damaged, it could posses the ability to heal or change color to alert where the problem is, much like the human skin healing, or turning red where there is irritation," Zunino said.

Colon said that these coatings are not purely fictional. Several of these modules have been incorporated into a first level, 'proof-of-concept,' prototype that was demonstrated at the U.S. Army Corrosion Summit in Florida, in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

"The prototype successfully demonstrated the ability to sense a change in the environment, analyze the change and alert the user of the anomaly through color changes on the substrate," he said.

Because of these factors the team believes these smart coatings could significantly reduce the amount of corrosion and associated costs here in the United States.

Other applications include active camouflage, reducing the sensitivity of explosives with nano-encapsulation, bio-mimicking properties, monitoring the integrity of building, bridges and pipes due to corrosion, and the like.

Besides corrosion, the color changing paint could potentially help save lives.

Zunino said that thermally active smart coatings are being applied to ammunition and ammunition packaging that change color in response to thermal exposure that is beyond the safe handling or firing temperatures of the item. When propelling charges are exposed to elevated temperatures for extended periods of time, the propellant stabilizer can be rapidly depleted, potential for auto-ignition and other failures exist. Smart coatings are a cheap, easy, visible warning, requiring no power, which can monitor several temperature ranges including, 145 F - 164 F, 165 F - 184 F, and over 185 oF exposure, and alert the warfighter of potential safety issues.

To date several working prototype modules have been developed under this program. Some of the key areas of research within the modules include color modifying coatings, flexible electronics, wireless sensor packages, nanotube development, intelligent nano-clays, alternative fuel and power sources, de-painting and self-repair, material modification, and other military capabilities.

Page last updated Fri October 16th, 2009 at 10:16