Smart coatings are one of the major development trends in surface technology in recent years. The possible applications are diverse and offer great potential to revolutionize a wide range of industries. In this blog article, we take a look at intelligent coatings, their promising applications and their prospects.

The efficiency of a process often depends crucially on the surface properties of the materials. Issues such as reaction speed, selectivity and corrosion resistance are of central importance. (In the blog article "Sustainability and energy transition: the role of surfaces" you can read more about the crucial role of surface technology as a cross-sectional technology and how it influences the success of renewable energy technologies).

What are smart coatings?

Smart coatings are innovative coatings that react spontaneously to external stimuli and thus provide added value beyond the basic, passive functions of a coating (e.g. decoration, protection). Stimuli can be heat, light irradiation, mechanical induction, temperature, pressure, pH fluctuations, aggressive corrosive ions and much more. Smart coatings are therefore also referred to as "stimuli-responsive" or "environmentally sensitive" coatings.

In principle, smart coatings always consist of passive and active components that have to be coordinated in order to achieve the desired functions. The technological approaches used to create these "intelligent" properties are diverse and range from the use of micro- and nanoparticle formulations to combinations of organic and inorganic phases. The functional component in these smart coatings can be both resin and one of a variety of possible additives (such as pigments, bioactives, enzymes, microencapsulated active ingredients, nanomaterials, inhibitors, radio frequency identification devices, microelectromechanical devices, etc.).

The integration of nanomaterials was a breakthrough in the further development of smart coatings. Using nanotechnology, surfaces can now be customized at a microscopic level to provide specific functions such as increased hardness, abrasion resistance and improved corrosion protection. Many smart coatings now contain metal and metal oxide nanoparticles that offer different functional properties and improved performance.

Areas of application for smart coatings

Like the possible environmental stimuli that act on smart coatings, their potential uses are diverse and heterogeneous. Here are some of the most promising areas of application:
  • Automotive industry: self-healing smart coatings are used in the automotive industry to protect surfaces from scratches and corrosion. Self-cleaning coatings can repel dirt, while adaptive coatings can change color or transparency. Self-healing coatings help to increase the service life of components.
  • Power generation: In power generation, multifunctional smart coatings can further help increase the efficiency of solar cells. In solar cell applications, self-cleaning ability, photoactivity and high transparency are among the most sought-after properties, but properties such as self-healing and antimicrobial activity have also gained interest recently. In order to produce films that fulfill several functions, "intelligent" coatings have therefore been developed that consist of various components.
  • Aviation: In aviation, smart coatings are used in various applications, including anti-friction coatings that reduce drag and lower fuel consumption.
  • Healthcare: In healthcare, antimicrobial smart coatings are used to keep surfaces in critical environments, such as hospitals, germ-free. These coatings are particularly important for preventing infections.
    Construction: In the construction industry, adaptive smart coatings can help to increase the energy efficiency of buildings. They adapt to the ambient conditions to optimize heat transfer.

Future trends and challenges

The driving force behind the development of smart coating technologies is the constant demand for higher performance, longer product life and significantly lower maintenance costs. In addition to the general further development of the adaptability of coatings, other important development trends in the coming years include

  • Environmentally friendly coatings: An important trend is the development of environmentally friendly smart coatings. There is an increased search for solutions that use less harmful chemicals and processes to minimize environmental impact.
  • Further self-healing capabilities: Research and development into self-healing technologies is continuing to improve the ability of smart coatings to repair damage.
  • Smart packaging: Smart coatings are increasingly being integrated into intelligent packaging to improve the shelf life of food and other products. They can also provide packaging with information about the condition of the contents.
  • Optical and visual effects: The improvement in optical and visual effects that can be created by smart coatings opens up new possibilities in entertainment, augmented reality and other areas

    In the coming years, surfaces will remain an indispensable part of our everyday lives. Advanced and sustainable methods for process development as well as solutions for emerging technologies such as fuel cells will play a crucial role in this area. Let's master the challenges in the field of surface technology together. Find out more about the efficiency and durability of products through surface technology.

Are your surfaces already intelligent?

EurA AG will be happy to support you in designing development projects, applying for suitable funding and finding partners for your projects. Our network for functional surfaces (FONIE) specializes in modern coating processes and is the perfect point of contact for taking your surfaces to the next level.



Text: Dr Greta Maroun

Dr Greta Maroun

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Dr Greta Maroun

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I am holding a PhD in physical chemistry. I have been working as a project and network manager at EurA since 2020. During my career, I have acquired versatile knowledge in various physical characterization methods (e.g., IR, XRD, XPS, electron microscopy, Raman) as well as the synthesis and investigation of new (photo)catalytic semiconductor materials for green hydrogen production applications and new biodiesel engines. On this basis, I am currently in charge of establishing and supervising a technology network in the field of functional surfaces and surface engineering. I would be happy to help with any request you may have in this field.

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