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Shape Memory Alloy

ETG 6933 - Advanced Topics in Technology
Frederick Kaiser

Abstract to be made


Executive Summery............................................................................................. 3


Introduction.......................................................................................................... 4


History.............................................................................................................. 5


Accidental Discovery......................................................................................... 6


Nitinol Phases and Properties............................................................................... 7


Introduction into the Market.............................................................................. 8


Current State of the Technology......................................................................10


References...................................................................................................... 12


Executive Summery
There are two stories that are in circulating about the discovery of Smart Memory Alloy

(SMA). The commercial name for SMA is Nitinol.

The first story of the discovery of Nitinol is hard to verify, but there is a population of
people who believe. A study was conducted for Wright Patterson in the late 40s that indicated a
more abstract explanation for the discovery of Nitinol. The study showed that first tine the metal
alloys that demonstrated shape recovery was being examined by the U.S. Military. These studies
were thought to have started shortly after the Roswell Crash where similar material was reported
to have been found. Importantly, even after decades, the Nickel-Titanium metal system (Nitinol)
remains the material that defines "morphing metal." Any earlier observation of "pseudoelasticity" was with a metal alloy that did not utilize Nickel and Titanium- and that was not
developed for that property. (Bragalia, 2009)
The Story of the discovery of Nitinol is easier to verify, sense there are witnesses who
were present, at the discovery of shape memory characteristics of Nitinol and they recorded what
they saw. The timeline and activities that led to the discovery was recorded by the metallurgists,
William J. Buehler and Dr. David S. Muzzey. (Kauffman, 1993) Nitinol (Nickel-Titanium Alloy)
was being developed as a durable metal to use for the nosecone for spacecrafts, the material that
was to be used on the nosecone was expected to be exposed to 1000s of degree and violent
turbulence at the time a spacecraft is reentering the atmosphere from low space orbit. During a
demonstration meeting, fire from a pipe lighter was exposed to the accordion shaped strip of
Nitinol, and then something unexpected and amazing happened. The accordion shaped Nitinol
strip straightened out into its original flat shape. (Kauffman, 1996)
Even though, the shape memory alloy (SMA) may have been invented by
Extraterrestrials and left on Earth after a crash in the 1940s. A more plausible explanation would
be an accidental discovery made by an engineer, looking to solve totally unrelated problem. We
will be focusing on the discovery made by William Buehler, and the further development of
Nitinol in the market place and the future of this shape memory alloy (SMA).


Shape Memory Alloy (SMA) is the generic name for this family of alloys, there are other

alloys that are considered a SMA, but it all started with the Nickel-titanium alloy. The other
SMA alloys include copper-aluminum-nickel, copper-zinc-aluminum, and iron- manganesesilicon alloys. (Borden, 1991) Nickel-titanium alloy, also, generically called (Nitinol) derived
from (Nickel Titanium Naval Ordnance Laboratory), was discovered in 1961 by William J.
Buehler. Reference Figure 1. William J. Buehler was a researcher at the Naval Ordnance
Laboratory in White Oak, Maryland. (Kauffman, 1993) Like other discoveries the Nickeltitanium alloy was come about by accident when a strip of Nickel-titanium alloy was bent out
shape and when heated stretch back into its original shape. This event was witnessed many times
by both William J. Buehler and Dr. David S. Muzzey. (Kauffman, 1993)

Figure 1 - William J. Buehler in 1968



Between 1952 and 1958, at the Naval Ordnance Laboratory, Buehler a metallurgist, to
cure boredom experienced in between projects, would experiment on iron-aluminum alloy.
William J. Buehler had completed research on a series of iron-aluminum alloys, for the Naval
Ordnance Laboratory (NOL) in 1958. At NOL, Buehler was working on the in-house project
which was to find an appreciate metal that could handle the hot and turbulence experienced by a
spacecraft on reentry into the atmosphere from low space orbit. Buehlers job on the in-house
project was to provide physical and mechanical property data on existing metals and alloys for
computer-assisted boundary layer calculations. These calculations were to simulate the heating,
etc. of a reentry body through the earths atmosphere. The job of working out calculation started
to become boring and Buehler started to think of different alloy conditions that may solve the
reentry problem. (Kauffman, 1996)
Buehler consulted Max Hansens recently published Constitution of Binary Alloys which
was the latest text available about binary constitution diagrams, showing the solid-state phase
relationships of twocomponent metallic alloys as a function of composition and temperature.
Starting with sixty intermetallic compound alloys and then narrowing down to twelve, Buehler,
was able to select an alloy that exhibited considerably more impact resistance and ductility than
the other eleven alloys. That metal combination was an equiatomic nickeltitanium alloy.
(Kauffman, 1996)
In 1959, Buehler, decided to concentrate his research efforts on nickel-titanium alloy
which he gave new name (Nitinol). Nitinol exhibited favorable attributes that were needed for
the nose cone of spacecraft during orbital reentry. (Kauffman, 1996)
Following the startling acoustic damping discovery, other seemingly related unique
changes were observed. More interestingly, these changes also occurred in about the same
temperature range as the acoustic damping change. Examples of some of these correlatable
phenomena were: (Kauffman, 1996)
Polished plane metallographic alloy surface when heated slightly (100 C to 200 C; 212
F to 392 F) exhibited an obvious eruption or recon touring of the surface. Plate-like surface
shearing occurred and appeared to form along certain crystallographic planes.

Microhardness indentations made at room temperature remained stable in size at room

temperature. However, when heated slightly (100 C to 200 C; 212 F to 392 F), they tended to
significantly reduce in size.
Metallography specimens polished using standard Al2O3 abrasive followed by etching
always revealed a typical acicular martensitic structure that one would typically find in quenchhardened steel. It was only after very careful diamond polishing (with minimal surface strain)
that the true NITINOL base structure was revealed.
Acoustic damping, strain, and microstructure combined with minor temperature variation
were all, in their way, trying to tell me that this was an overtly dimensionally mobile alloy
capable of major atomic movement in a rather low temperature regimenear room temperature.


Accidental Discovery
In 1961, preparing for meeting to demonstrate the fatigue-resistant properties of Nitinol,

Buehler, prepared a (.010 inch thick) strip. At room temperature he bent the strip into an
accordion shape, so it could be pulled out of shape and bounce back. Buehler gave the Nitinol
strip to his assistant to bring to the laboratory management meeting, because he was able to
attend. At the laboratory management meeting, the strip was passed around the members of the
meeting, as a prop. The members of the meeting pulled and twisted the nickeltitanium alloy.
One of the Associate Technical Directors, Dr. David S. Muzzey, who was a pipe smoker, applied
heat from his pipe lighter to the compressed strip. To everyones amazement, the Nitinol
stretched out longitudinally. The mechanical memory discovery, while not made in Buehlers
metallurgical laboratory, was the missing piece of the puzzle of the earlier mentioned acoustic
damping and other unique changes during temperature variation. The unattended actions during a
management meeting made accidental discovery of an amazing alloy, that will be used many
new and innovative inventions. (Kauffman, 1996)


Nitinol Phases and Properties


Nitinol has phase change while still solid; these phase changes are known as martensite
and austenite. Martensite and austenite phase changes "involve the rearrangement of the position
of particles within the crystal structure of the solid" the discovery of the shape-memory effect.
Dr. Frederick E. Wang. (Kauffman, 1993) Nitinol is in the martensite phase under the shift of
temperature. The alteration temperature varies from different compositions from -50 C to 166
C. (Jackson, 1997) Nitinol can be bend into varies shapes in the martensite phase, to reshape the
Nitinol back into its original character the Nitinol must held into position and heated to
approximately 500 C. By heating the Nitinol the atoms are realigned into a compact and regular
pattern resulting into a rigid cubic arrangement known as the austenite phase. (Kauffman, 1993)
The parent shape is achieved in the austenite phase. The Nitinol can phase shifted back and forth
from martensite to austenite for millions of cycles with no breakdown on the composite alloy.
(Jackson, 1997)
The production method of Nitinol varies existing current techniques of producing nickeltitanium alloys include vacuum melting techniques such as electron-beam melting, vacuum arc
melting or vacuum induction melting. The Nitinol is made into cast ingot in a press forge or
rotary forge into in to rods or wire. The working temperature for Nitinol is between 700 C and
900 C. The cold working method for Nitinol is similar to the fabrication of titanium wire. To
produce wires ranging in size from .075mm to 1.25mm in diameter carbide and diamond dies
must be used to produce the wire. A change to the mechanical and physical properties of Nitinol
will occur when the alloy is cold worked. (Jackson, 1997)
General the properties of Nitinol is comparable to other alloys, its melting point is around
1240 C to 1310 C, and its density is around 6.5 g/cm. Other physical properties due differ
from other alloys such as temperatures with various compositions of elements include electrical
resistivity, thermoelectric power, Hall coefficient, velocity of sound, damping, heat capacity,
magnetic susceptibility, and thermal conductivity. (Jackson, 1997) The large force generated
upon returning to its original shape is a very useful property. Other useful properties of Nitinol
are its "excellent damping characteristics at temperatures below the transition temperature range,
its corrosion resistance, its nonmagnetic nature, its low density and its high fatigue strength"
these properties translate into many uses for Nitinol. Reference Table 1. (Jackson, 1997)

Melting Point
Electrical Resistivity
Modulus of Elasticity
Coefficient of Thermal Expansion
Ultimate Tensile Strength (min. UTS)
Total Elongation (min)
Loading Plateau Stress @ 3%/ strain
Shape Memory Strain (max)
Transformation Temperature (Af)

0.234 lb/in3
30 ohm-in
4-6 x 106 psi
3.7 x 10-6/F

6.5 g/cm3
76 ohm-cm
28-41 x 103 MPa
6.6 x 10-6/C

160 x 103 psi


1100 MPa

15 x 103 psi

100 MPa

140 F

60 C

Table 1 - Nitinol SM495 Wire Properties (Nitinol, 2010)


Introduction into the Market

The first successful product that used Nitinol was created for the Grumman Aerospace
Corporation by Raychem Corporation. Raychem Corporation Cryofit shrink-to-fit coupler was
used as a coupler to tightly fit hoses together. Grumman Aerospace was having a problem with
the hydraulic lines in the F-14 jet fighter, the existing hydraulic line couplers would leak (below
120 C; 184 F). Raychem Corporation found that when a Nitinol tube is placed into liquid
nitrogen between (196 C; 321 F) and (210 C; 346 F), the tube size could be easily be
expanded with a tapered mandrel rod. The ends of the hydraulic pipe were inserted into the
Nitinol coupler tube and the assembly was then allowed to warm, to a temperature lower than
120 C; 184 F. The Nitinol tube would revert back to its original shape coupling the hydraulic
tubes together. The Nitinol tube applied very high associated force, provided a continuously
clamping and totally sealed joint at well below the required 120 C (184 F) temperature. The
Cryofit Nitinol coupler was used on the F-14 jet fighter from that point on. The same coupler or
similar couplers are being used air craft that require that specifications. (Kauffman, 1996)
Nitinol has a variety of applications some are used in military, medical, safety, and
robotics. The military have been using Nitinol coupler since the late 60s, these coupler are used
for hydraulic lines. (Kauffman, 1993) In the medical field Nitinol is used for tiny tweezers and
heart stints and catheters through blood vessels. Nitinol is used in Orthodontic to help straighten

teeth. Eyeglass frames are made of Nitinol, so if they bend they spring back in to shape. A safety
application for Nitinol is in fire sprinklers as an anti-scaling device and also water faucets and
shower heads. (Kauffman, 1993) Fire sprinklers using Nitinol achieve more reliable water flow
starts and stops. (Kauffman, 1993) To simulate human muscle motion, Nitinol components are
being used in robotics actuators and micromanipulators. (Rogers, 1995) Other applications for
Nitinol would include household appliances such as thermal sensitivity deep frying baskets,
woman bras making them comfort to the bodies shape for better comfort, Nitinol engine mounts
and suspension parts that control vibration more efficiently, and structure members for bridges
and building. Reference Figures 2, 3, 4, 5. (Falcioni, 1997)(Rogers, 1995)

Figure 2 - Wire for Braces

Figure 4 Frames for Eyeglasses

Figure 3 - Stent for Clogged Arteries

Figure 5 - Clot Trapping Filter for blood Vessels

VII. Current State of the Technology

The use of Shape Memory Alloy in the future is wide open, possible application could be
engines in cars and airplanes, and a motor for generating electricity. Nitinol can be used in
automobile frame and replace body panels, so if in an impact the original shape can be returned
with else. (Kauffman, 1993) Nitinol can be used to form smart louvers for eliminate engine heat
more efficiently. SMAs is ideal for fasteners, seals, connectors, and clamps. Tighter connections
and easier and more efficient installations result from the use of shape memory alloys. (Borden,
Nitinol has the mechanical and electrical properties that will allow it to be used to make
more efficient electric motors. Dynalloy Inc. is a 20-year-old company that markets a line of
SMA wire called Flexinol that is used as actuators by a wide variety of manufacturers. Flexinol
is made of nickel-titanium alloy. It comes wrapped on spools like traditional wire, with diameters
ranging from 0.001 to 0.02 inch. Dynalloy claims that one 100- meter spool of Flexinol can
replace approximately 1,000 electric motors. The wire contracts anywhere from 2 percent to 5
percent of its length, like muscles, when it is heated. (Weber, 2010) Nitinol motors are planned as
addition power source for future electric and hybrid cars. Reference Figure 6.

Figure 6 SMA Wire Motor Used for Additional Force


The aerospace industry is also searching for new SMA applications. By using the
material, engineers at Boeing, General Electric Co. and Goodrich Corp. developed a variable
geometry chevron that reduces commercial aircraft engine noise. Chevrons are zigzag or saw
tooth shapes at the back end of the nacelle and the engine exhaust nozzle, with tips that are bent
slightly into the airflow. This creates vortices that form at each chevron, enhancing the mixing
rate of the adjacent flow streams. When the chevrons enhance mixing by the right amount, jet
engine noise diminishes. (Weber, 2010)
Traditionally, automakers use hundreds of cable actuators, small electromagnetic motors
and other mechanical devices to adjust mirrors, seats and headrests; operate windows and door
locks; raise antennas; and release latches. Many of these components can be replaced with SMA.
(Weber, 2010) Using Nitinol wire automaker will be able to make louvers the open when, when
the engine heat is high enough to make the alloy react. Reference Figure 7.

Figure 7 SMA Controlled Louvers


VIII. References
Borden, Tom. "Shape-Memory Alloys: Forming a Tight Fit." Mechanical Engineering. Oct.
1991, p67-72.
Bragalia, Anthony. The Final Secrets of Roswell's Memory Metal Revealed. UFODigest.Com.
June 8, 2009,, retrieved on July
2, 2010.
Falcioni, John G. "Shape Memory Alloys." Mechanical Engineering. April 1992, p114.
Jackson, C.M., Wagner, H.J. and Wasilewski, R.J. 55-Nitinol-The Alloy with a Memory: Its
Physical Metallurgy, Properties, and Applications: A Report. Washington: NASA. 1972.
Kauffman, George and Isaac Mayo. "Memory Metal." Chem Matters. Oct. 1993, p4-7.
Kauffman, George and Isaac Mayo. The Story of Nitinol: The Serendipitous Discovery of the
Memory Metal and Its Applications. The Chemical Educator. 1996. VOL. 2, NO. 2, S
1430-4171 (97) 021 110.
Nitinol Devices & Components. Nitinol SM495 Wire Material Data Sheet.,
SDS-SM495, Rev. B.,, retrieved on 4 July 2010.
Rogers, Craig. "Intelligent Materials." Scientific American. Sept. 1995, p154-157.
Weber, Austin. Smart Materials Have a Bright Future. March 26,
2010. Retrieve on 5 July 2010.