In a traditional automotive cooling system, energy optimization could be achieved by controlling the engine temperature by means of several sensors placed inside the cooling circuit. Nevertheless, in some cases the increasing use of a great number of sensor devices makes the control system too bulky, expensive and not sufficiently robust for the intended application. This paper presents the development of a heavy-duty automotive cooling axial fan with morphing blades activated by Shape Memory Alloy (SMA) strips that work as actuator elements in the polymeric blade structure. The application of smart materials to compact, high-energy density devices as well as the development of modeling and control systems has been of great interest during the last decade. SMAs are frequently combined within monolithic or composite host materials to produce adaptive structures whose properties could be tuned in response to external stimuli.

The blade was designed to achieve the activation of the strips (purposely thermo-mechanically treated) by means of an air stream flow. With the aim of studying the morphing capability of the adaptive structure together with the recovery behavior of the NiTi strips, four different polymeric compounds have been compared in a specifically-designed wind tunnel.

Digital image analysis techniques have been performed to quantitatively analyze the blade deflections and to evaluate the most suitable polymeric matrix for the intended application. As the airstream flow increases in temperature, the strips recover the memorized bent shape, leading to a camber variation. To study the possibility of employing SMA strips as actuator elements, a comparison with common viscous clutch behavior is proposed. The time range actuator response indicates that the SMA strips provide a lower frequency control that fits well with the engine coolant thermal requirement. The experimental results demonstrate the capability of SMA materials to accommodate the lower power actuators in the automotive field. Finally, the blade tip airfoils, reconstructed using a CAD procedure, were used to study the fluid dynamic behavior of the blade tip airfoil. A CFD numerical simulation was carried out in order to highlight the differences in the airfoil performance due to the different shapes of the blade. The analyses showed that the activated blade tip airfoil led to an increase in the lift coefficient according to the stiffness provided by the polymeric compound.

This innovative passive control system results from the selection of (i) the memorized shape of the SMA strips and (ii) the polymeric compound used for the blade structure.

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