A material is usually thought of as just a solid or just a liquid. One that is viscoelastic may have both properties to some extent. Though not technically true, the material flows like a liquid in certain situations but performs like a solid in others. There are a number of different materials that count as viscoelastic, each behaving in the same or similar manner.
Discovered and developed in the late twentieth century, viscoelastic materials have been used in a number of different applications including as a buffer under heavy loads to prevent or reduce the damage that can be seen from moving those items or from operating them in place. The material developed by Sorbothane was introduced in the early 1980’s and is meant to flow under loads like a liquid.
The dual behavior of the materials allows it to resist shear flow as well as strain. Elastic for example, may undergo strain when it is stretched at all but will return to its normal, resting state once that stressing factor is removed from it. Viscosity, on the other hand, gives the material a little more stability and resists flowing. Additional synthetic polymers will help to stabilize and keep the material behaving like it was supposed.
Viscoelastic materials also help to deal with the concept of creep. Creep is the tendency of otherwise solid materials to move or to deform with certain stresses or properties. This deformity may be permanent and may also represent a potential or imminent failure, depending on the material that is represented. Creep is almost always more severe in the types of materials that are exposed to or subjected to heat for long periods. There are some materials where a fair amount of creep is considered to be a good thing- for instance in concrete roadways or sidewalks, a small amount of creep prevents the stress buildup that can crack or otherwise damage it.
The viscoelastic polymer materials that were created by Sorbothane in 1982 are used to reduce the damages that can be caused by machine vibration and by reducing shock damages that are generated by working machinery parts. For instance, NASA used a version of the material during a launch to protect a delicate camera from the many different shocks, vibrations and other forces that would be exerted on it. This same material was also used to help the Air Force Memorial to be safely built. Soaring over two hundred feet in the air, this structure incorporated specialized dampers that displaced the wind energy that could have caused the whole thing to topple.
Viscoelastic polymer materials reduce noise transmissions as well which makes working in factories safer and more pleasant for the employees. Noise reduction can also reduce the amount of down time in the factory which can lead to increased productivity and efficiency and an overall happier workforce. That translates to an improvement for the factory, the employees and the surrounding areas.
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