Hinges are used for many simple things. Hinges for kitchen cabinets, doors, piano lids and countless other items are certainly important, but some hinges are designed for roles that are a bit off the beaten path. They are not just specialized hinges, they are highly specialized hinges. These hinges could be considered unsung heroes in our everyday world; hinges often overlooked, but with exceptional performance demands and capabilities that most people are not aware of.
Here are a few applications where highly-specialized hinges make all the difference in the world:
Specialized Hinges for Space Exploration
Equipment and spacecraft that are thrust into the outer reaches of zero-gravity rely on hinges to ensure their full functionality. For example, very highly-specialized hinges on satellites enable solar panels to open at predetermined angles and configurations as well as permit antennas to properly deploy.
Without solar panels and antennas functioning as they must, messages sent to or from outer-space would cease, and space missions would be forced to abort.
One type of rigid hinge for solar panels (similar to a door hinge) that is modified for space applications possess three components:
Aeronautical hinges intended for beyond-this-world use must operate under incredibly-harsh and merciless conditions including:
Highly-specialized hinges are not only fabricated to operate seamlessly under these unique circumstances, but they are designed to be self-actuating, self-guiding and self-locking…quite impressive.
Elastic Memory Composite Hinges
Then, there are Elastic Memory Composite Hinges configured to move any attached mass on a space craft or space item. Elastic Memory Composite Hinges, or EMCH, are stronger and lighter than traditional hinges used for space exploration. EMCH are a resin and carbon fiber laminate.
Hinges made from this material have been tested by the Air Force Research Laboratory. After a test campaign on the International Space Station (Expedition 15), the Elastic Memory Composite Hinges proved themselves to be impressively reliable and robust in a zero-gravity environment. The goal is to replace current mechanical hinges with the EMCH for next-generation space endeavors.
Hinges for Bionics
Hinges permeate the medical field. They are embedded in radiation-shield doors, patient beds, medical equipment and portable computer stations to name only a few.
Bionic Knee Brace
There is one type of hinge in the medical field, however, that rightfully garners extra attention: bionic knee braces that incorporate specialized aluminum hinges for lightweight, durable use. Applications for the bionic knee brace include:
This impressive device is crafted with powered, compact, spring loaded hinges that allow the user to lift up to 150 pounds of body weight. As this takes place, the bionic hinges simultaneously and dramatically reduce joint compression via a shock absorption system.
Bionic Knee Brace for Military Use
The military usage for high tech hinges is not to be ignored. The powered hinges used in bionic knee braces is ideal for military personnel who must lift very heavy loads on a regular basis and/or navigate rugged terrain. Fascinatingly, energy is actually stored in the hinge mechanism as the knee is bent during weight-bearing activities. That stored energy is released in customizable increments once the leg is straightened into normal position. The end result is enhanced strength, reduced fatigue and beyond-human performance. There are no batteries or motors! Maximum force output is the end result thanks to the spring-loaded hinges that are the most crucial component of the bionic brace!
Large exoskeletons are a bit like the bionic knee brace, but even more impressive. Again, highly-specialized hinges are the driving component that allows these tech-advanced products to work in the first place. Exoskeletons are a totally mechanical ‘suit’ that uses no batteries of any kind. Hinges permit parts to move, seamlessly; and this, in turn, means those who are attempting to regain mobility after a spinal injury, for example, can actually stand and walk! Though the actual and possible applications for exoskeletons are many, Lockheed Martin is the first to offer an industrial application for purchase.
Yes, very highly-specialized hinges are impacting the world in ways one would never have thought possible!