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World leadership in electrorheology and the automotive industry

Electrorheology is a technology whereby ‘intelligent' fluids vary their viscous properties within an electrical field.

Fludicon GmbH is a world leader in electrorheology or ER. Electrorheology is the technology of ‘intelligent’ fluids which exhibit viscosity properties that can be controlled by an external electric field. The Fludicon ER fluids are suspensions of polyurethane microspheres in a silicone base liquid and other proprietary additives. The use of ER fluids in specially designed dampers, clutches, mounts and other devices enables direct digital control of the devices without any electromechanical valves. “ER is a key technology well on its way towards industrial commercialization. Large amounts of energy can be transformed in a very controllable manner and within a confined space. 

The controllable rheology of the ER fluid, under the influence of the electric field generated by proprietary high-voltage amplifiers designed and manufactured by Fludicon, simplifies the overall design of the device and eliminates small (costly) moving parts. This translates to more responsive and stable operation, higher reliability and reduced investment and maintenance costs,” says Fludicon, which was founded in 2001 as a spin-off from Schenck AG and is located in Darmstadt, Germany.

ER fluids (ERF) change their viscosity so quickly that, by using state-of-the-art electronics, completely new customer values are created. ER technology is suitable for a wide variety of functions including intelligent shock absorbers, vibroisolation systems for production machines and metrology equipment, semi-active and active suspension for automotive and military vehicles, tuned-mass dampers, and highly dynamic actuators.

Last year, Fludicon won the 2009 Frost & Sullivan European Automotive Advanced Suspension Technologies Excellence in Research Award for its successful research and development efforts in ER fluids and their applications in controlled damping systems. Fludicon’s ERF-based controllable dampers offer a range of advantages over dampers controlled by electro-mechanical valves. They are simpler in design and offer manufacturing cost advantages as well as higher reliability. Dynamic response is faster, and tuning is a simple matter of software parameter adjustment.

Another key advantage of Fludicon ERF is its controllability. Low fluid density and fast electrical field activation and deactivation, in combination with a faster fluid reaction, increase speed of response in comparison to Magneto-Rheological or MR fluids. Fludicon asserts that the dynamic response of its ER damper is three to five times faster than that of competing dampers.

Fludicon’s research on ER fluids and dampers has generated patented designs that are highly compatible with various applications across domains such as automotive, industrial, material handling and transport, rehabilitation and exercise equipment. The Fludicon ERF (RheOil®) can be used in dampers of various designs and dimensions for a broad range of applications where the ability to rapidly and electronically control the damping offers a competitive advantage. 

“With numerous benefits offered in terms of smart technology, cost-effectiveness and wide application compatibility, Fludicon’s damper systems are expected to be widely accepted in Europe. As it ventures into automotive applications in the near future, Fludicon’s ERF dampers are expected to be a worthy alternative to the already available semi-active dampers based on alternate technologies,” said Nookala Vinod, research analyst at Frost & Sullivan last year in a press release. 

Later this year, Fludicon is set to commercialise its ER fluid and ER dampers for production vehicles with the introduction of its eRRide® semi-active suspension system. Initially, eRRide® will be available in emergency vehicles (ambulances) and will subsequently spread throughout the light commercial vehicle market, where it is anticipated to enjoy an early entry advantage. Another new area of application that Fludicon intends to penetrate is the motorcycles segment. 

“The company anticipates the demand for its fluid to grow over ten times by 2012 and aims to be the local technical centre of expertise for the European region with a production capability of damper systems for industrial, physical rehabilitation and automotive applications. Presently, Fludicon is poised to introduce its automotive products by forming strategic partnerships with tier 1 and tier 2 suppliers that cater to the automotive industry,” said Vinod. 

Already, Fludicon has developed and successfully tested various ER-dampers along with VB-Airsuspension of the Netherlands. This is the world’s first semi-active suspension system developed exclusively for medical emergency vehicles. With this new suspension system, ambulances on the way to the scene, offer higher margins of handling safety, compared to conventional chassis. On the way to the hospital, the suspension operates at the other end of the spectrum and offers an extremely comfortable and smooth ride that isolates the patient from the punishment of road inputs. Yet, when traffic conditions necessitate a critical driving maneuver, the eRRide® intelligent suspension control switches to the safe handling mode within a few milliseconds. 

Fludicon’s RheDamp® is one of the first fully tunable shock absorbers controlled by the innovative ER technology. RheDamp® is a (hydraulic) damper which utilizes ER technology to adapt to system requirements whilst consuming as little energy as possible. An electrical signal determines the operating damping force, which can thus be optimally adapted to excitation forces. RheDamp® covers a wide range of speed-damping force characteristics. The flow resistance is determined by the ER technology whereby an electrical field influences the viscosity of the fluid. 

RheDamp® has a wide range of applications including for the automotive industry. The advantages of RehDamp® include the product being continuously variable – no single curve but a complete characteristic damper field is available. Plus RheDamp® offers digital control – a simple input signal allows “remote control” of the damping force and no mechanical fine tuning is necessary. The product is also noise-free without any clattering or whistling valves and is highly dynamic – a reaction of a few milliseconds means an instantaneous adjustment of the damping force. RheDamp® also offers the advantage of simple installation and is compatible with ISO Norm P-cylinder range for fittings (flanges and ball joints).

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