Smart materials

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Liquid crystal displays

  • LCD's consist of organic carbon based compounds held within a cell.
  • When the cells have a small voltage applied to them they go dark.
  • Controlling the voltage application to a number of cells means a controlled dark area can be created.
  • Straight lines, simple shapes, generally not much colour.


  • Image clarity and flexibility.
  • Low voltage and slim screen.
  • Organic carbon based compounds used.
  • Ideal for portable electronic devices such as mobile phones, as battery life can be extended.


  • Expensive set up and low light viewing difficult.
  • Viewing angle often not good.
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Phosphorescent Pigments

  • After glow material.
  • Absorb light energy or 'charge' in normal conditions and are capable of storing the energy for some time, then releasing it relatively slowly in the form of light.
  • Non-radioactive.
  • Can be manufactured into polymers used in pains or inks for products like safety signage and watch faces.
  • Can be seen in complete darkness.


  • Can glow in complete darkness.
  • Recharge in normal daylight.
  • Organic compound and no cost to run, with no power source required.


  • Colour limitations and initial set up cost is much more expensive.
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Electroluminescent lighting

  • Electroluminescent lighting converts electrical energy into light by applying a voltage across electrodes.
  • The current charges phosphor crystals.
  • Visible light is emitted and a much lower power consumption.
  • Produced as wire, or strips and can be sandwiched very thinly.
  • Ideal for back lighting LCD displays (posters and adverts) or watch face lighting due to low voltage.


  • Organic compound and a low running cost.
  • Very low power consumption and ideal for back lighting.
  • Can form highly visual impact images and can also be waterproof.
  • Very reliable.


  • Colour limitations and initial set up cost is high.
  • Can be deemed to be low tech compared to LCD images.
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Thermochromic Liquid Crystals

  • Changes colour in temperature, used for forehead thermometers, battery test panels and special printing effects.
  • In the case of forehead thermometer:
  • A layer of conductive in is screen printed onto the reverse of the thermometer *****.
  • On top of the conductive ink is a later of normal ink that conveys the temperature gauge colour bars.
  • Finally, there is the thermochromic later, which is black when cool.
  • By pressing the thermometer to the forehead, the temperature generated turns the thermochromic ink translucent.
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Piezoelectric Crystals

  • When pressed/squashed it gives off electricity.
  • It is a material that expands and contracts when electric current is applied.
  • The piezoelectric effect converts this mechanical stress or vibration into electrical signals and vice versa.

Actuator: a device for controlling a mechanism or system.

Example: musical greetings card

Process: the musical module is activated by opening the card, which removes an insulating tongue from between a pair of switch contacts on the module. The piezoelectric crystal acts as a tiny speaker driver allowing it to generate a pre-programmed sound stored on an integrated circuit mounted on the module.

Transducer: a device that converts a signal from one form to another.

Example: electronic drum kit

Process: when an electronic drum pad is struck, a voltage change is triggered in the embedded piezoelectric transducer. The resultant signals are translated into digital waveforms, which produce the desired percussion sound assigned to that particular trigger pad.

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Smart Ink/Electronic Paper

  • Smart ink is a display technology designed to mimic the appearance of ordinary ink on paper.
  • Electronic paper was developed in order to overcome some of the limitations of computer monitors. 
  • A prime example is the kindle.
  • Each pixel point on the display is a tiny pit containing a small number of black and white beads, each of which is about as wide as a human hair.
  • The white beads are positively charged and the black beads negatively charged.
  • Each pit is topped with a transparent electrode and has two other electrodes at its base.
  • Altering the charge on the base electrodes makes either white or black beads leap to the top of the pit forming either a blank or black spot on the larger display. Making on base electrode positive and the other negative creates a grey spot.


  • The pixels have an inherently stable 'memory effect' that requires no power to maintain an image.
  • Displays only draw on battery power when text is refreshed, which means they can display about 10,000 pages before the batteries need changing.
  • Flexibility of surgace and it doesn't run down voltage.
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Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)

  • Radio frequency identification is a method of identification that uses tags stuck on to a product to store date that can be retrieved by a reader.
  • This method is often used to track pallets of products from the manufacturer to the retailer.
  • RFID technology is based on the transmission and reception of radio frequency signals between a transmitter (know as a reader) and a transponder (known as tag), which is attached to the product.
  • In most cases the transmission is two way; the transmitter sends signals, which the transponder recieves; the transponder then transmits a response signal that is recieved by the transmitter.
  • The information from the transmitter can then be usd to identify the transponder and any item it is attached to.
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  • Softwoods: stronger and longer grains.
  • Hardwoods: smoother and shorter grains.

Jelutong: hardwood

Properties: low density, straight grain and fine texture.

Basla: hardwood

Properties: extremely buoyant, very soft and light and low density with high strength.

Scots pine: softwood

Properties: easy to work, knotty and prone to warping.

Parana pine: softwood

Properties: hard, straight grain, fairly strong, durable and easy to work with a smooth finish.

Whitewood: softwood

Properties: fairly strong, but not durable. Easy to work and very resistant to splitting.

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Folding boxboard

Composition: usually consists of a bleached virgin pulp top surface, unbleached pulp middle layers and a bleached pulp inside layer.

Applications: Widely used for the majority of food packaging and for all general carton applications.


  • Excellent for scoring, bending and creasing without splitting.
  • Excellent printing surface.
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Corrugated board

Composition: Constructed from a fluted paper layer sandwiched between two paper liners. 

Applications: Protective packaging for fragile goods, the most commony used box-making material.


  • Excellent impact resistance.
  • Has excellent strength for its weight.
  • Low cost and recyclable.
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Solid white board

Composition: Made entirely from pure bleached wood pulp.

Applications: Packaging for frozen foods, ice-cream, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.


  • Very strong and rigid.
  • Excellent printing surface.

Foil-lined board

Composition: Consists of a laminated foil coating. Foil available in matt or gloss finish and in silver or gold colours.

Applications: Cosmetic cartons, pre packed food packages.


  • Very strong visual impact and foil provides an excellent barrier against moisture.
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