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Everything has a lifecycle — even machines. And any exploited vulnerabilities or inflicted damage decreases the life span of a machine. For companies who’ve invested (or looking to invest) in advanced technology, the idea of a limited lifecycle is not too appealing. It doesn’t mean it prevents them from investing, but it’s one of those considerations that nestle in the back of their minds.

Author Radiana Pit | Copperberg

In the future, this consideration might become a distant memory because a new era is upon us: the era of the self-healing machine.

Recent advances in self-healing technology

Researchers from the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) have worked with Siemens to develop new, robust methods for the automatic compensation of wear in industrial machine tools.

They’ve created algorithms that enabled the machine tool to detect the mechanical parts where it needed maintenance. They’ve also enabled the machine tool to perceive changes in the workspace and adapt to new conditions by adjusting its operating parameters.

This advance in self-healing technology will have a great impact on industrial automatization and digitalization. By self-healing, machinery becomes more reliable and its lifespan increases. The new methods and algorithms that are still being developed will not only ensure precision in normal working conditions but also when the machinery starts to wear down. Needless to say, but production quality will not suffer from machine wear with such technology available.

Another recent development in self-healing technology, this time on the physical front rather than digital, comes from the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems (MPI-IS) and Pennsylvania State University (PSU), where researchers have developed a soft synthetic material that can heal itself within seconds after damage.

Typical self-healing materials take longer to bond back together, sometimes even days. However, the new stretchable material recovers its entire structure in the blink of an eye. Additionally, during tests, the material proved to be able to recover from extreme mechanical damage within seconds over and over again.

For the robotics industry, this development is of great interest, as it can create new applications for robots in everyday life. With such instantaneous self-healing capabilities, robots can be employed in a broad range of areas, from mining to manufacturing and even disaster recovery.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this development is that it was inspired by nature. The team of researchers that developed this material looked to nature for guidance “to create self-healing programmable materials with unprecedented control over their physical properties using synthetic biology.” After studying the molecular structure and amino acid sequences of squid proteins, the team was able to develop a biosynthetic material through protein engineering. Using this material, protein-based soft robots can now repair themselves immediately.

Self-healing cybersecurity systems

One of the most exciting applications for self-healing technology is cybersecurity. Not only is the possibility of quantum computing creating a concern for multi-layered threats, but the current threat landscape is already sophisticated enough to keep technicians awake at night. Fortunately, self-healing machines harness the power of AI to detect threats, mitigate incidents, and build intricate security layers that start with self-healing capabilities at the hardware level.

To preserve and process data for the future, Alibaba has already developed a closed-loop self-healing hardware that prevents machine failure from affecting their data. This enables the company to spend fewer resources on repairs and maintenance and invest more in improving its sales cycles and technical customer support.

In an increasingly digital world where the cities are becoming smarter, AI is penetrating all layers of everyday life, and business is becoming mobile-first, security and data protection are essential. That’s why it’s of utmost importance to build high-level security to assure the safety of the cyber-physical world.

Although the concept of self-healing cybersecurity systems suggests little to no human intervention, it’s worth recognizing that the human-out-of-the-loop idea can be counterproductive. Rather than eliminating human intervention, companies should look into security awareness training and reskilling to ensure a correct understanding of all cybersecurity protocols.

Self-healing machinery in the industrial sector

In manufacturing, self-healing machinery promises to significantly reduce production downtime with the help of machine-embedded, network-connected sensors that collect massive amounts of valuable data from the machines they are attached to. Additionally, machine learning will also enable self-healing processes by registering how the machine is supposed to work and then restoring faulty components that prevent it from operating the way it’s supposed to.

The automotive industry is also experiencing enthusiasm for self-healing materials. Although most applications still remain conceptual today, such as the Terzo Millennio car, design engineers are eager to experiment with polymers, elastomers, ceramics, and metals imbued with self-healing properties.

It will still take some time until self-healing cars or tires scale-up to a commercial level, but the first steps towards self-healing cars and transport have already been made.

Key considerations for the future

The global self-healing materials market is projected to reach $2,447.7 million by 2021. This potential growth is driven by the shift towards regulations that mandate longer service guarantees and by increasing demands in Europe. On the digital front, however, self-healing systems might face a few challenges.

For instance, scalability might be a challenge because extending the concept of healing beyond a certain size depends on the time required for recovery. It’s important to consider scalability, mapping, area overhead, and re-routing speed when designing a self-healing system. Furthermore, it’s important to consider all healing levels necessary for a successful solution: hardware, architecture, application, and system.

If done right, self-healing systems and machines will have the ability to improve recovery speed and full system functionality, develop prediction models for system and hardware maintenance, and even develop an intelligent, adaptive, and reconfigurable architecture to reorganize tasks and operations.

Both digital and physical self-healing technologies have great potential to create a more resilient future across a broad range of industries and daily life applications. If combined, they could even usher in a new industrial revolution that will span across sectors such as aerospace/automotive, manufacturing, and security.

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