Electro-rheological (ER) fluids are smart fluids with the ability to change their rheological characteristics when subjected to changing electric fields. These fluids have been a topic of research and development for more than a couple of decades. The fluid works on the principle of electro-rheological (ER) effect, also known as Winslow effect. Electrically active particles suspended in the fluid arrange themselves along the electric field lines to form rigid chains, resulting in increased viscosity. The suspension particle size varies from nanometric to micrometric scales. These fluids are capable of altering their viscosity in milliseconds. This phenomenon is reversible and repeatable. This makes the use of electro-rheological fluids highly competent in several applications such as clutches, dampers, brakes, and hydraulic valves, wherein quick engagement and activation is important.
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Electro-rheological fluids have witnessed the rise in demand lately, due to high demand from sectors such as automotive and defense research & development. ER fluids are significantly applied in electronics and defense technologies. The property of ER fluids to get transformed into semi-solid state is helpful in the manufacture of rollable keypads and screens. When in inactive state, these devises can be rolled up and when in activated state, the ER fluid rigidifies for use.
These fluids are very quick in terms of response time. Hence, they are largely preferred over the existing systems such as mechanical suspensions, clutches, valves, and brakes. ER fluids are also likely to be applied in the development of bulletproof vests. These fluids can be absorbed by the cloth fabric and they can turn into a hard covering with the application of a small electric field almost instantly. Electro-rheological fluids can also be employed for controlling the fluid flow in variable-flow controls.
However, the ER fluid also has significant limitations such as settling and separation of the base fluid and particulates. This effect, called sedimentation effect, may render the ER fluid entirely useless or ineffective changing its rheological properties. Furthermore, the ER fluid has a limited range of operations and it cannot change its viscosity effectively in applications that require shear and flow modes. Collectively, these factors are hampering the ER fluids market.
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Based on liquid base, the electro-rheological fluids market can be segmented into silicone oil, water, and others. The use of liquid base varies according to the application and shear stress. Furthermore, based on end-user industry, the electro-rheological fluids market can be divided into automotive, electronics, defense, and others. In the automotive industry, ER fluids are used for dampers and suspension systems, clutches, ER braking systems, and valves. Automotive and defense are substantially lucrative segments, especially in the markets in North America and Europe.
Prominent players operating in the global electro-rheological fluids market include Smart Technology Limited and Fludicon.