Airborne International will help develop composites health monitoring system

A consortium will develop a smart miniaturized system for continuous health monitoring of composites that integrates optical fiber sensor technology, nanophotonic chip technology and low-power wireless technology.

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The Airborne Technology Centre  (The Hague, The Netherlands) announced on Oct. 15 that it is a partner in the European FP7 funded project SmartFiber, a consortium lead by IMEC and with Ghent University, FBGS Technologies, Xenics, Fraunhofer and Optocap. This consortium will develop a smart miniaturized system for continuous health monitoring of composites that integrates optical fiber sensor technology, nanophotonic chip technology and low-power wireless technology.

The smart system will enable, for the first time, fully embedded structural health monitoring of composites used as structural parts in wind turbine blades, satellites, airplanes, civil constructions, oil and gas wells and boat hulls.

The enabling technology of this smart system is Si nanophotonics, a technology for which imec, in partnership with its associated laboratory INTEC at Ghent University (UGent), is world leading. The nanophotonic chip technology enables the realisation of a fiber interrogation scheme or spectral analyser as a photonic integrated circuit (PIC), which has typical dimensions on the order of several hundreds of a micrometer. This low-power PIC will be finished by electrical means for wireless communication and inductive power coupling, packaged in a mm-sized cage and coupled to optical fiber bragg grating (FBG) sensors. This approach has the potential to become the enabler for continuous FBG sensor technology in composites and to become the true driver to realise intelligent composites.

Airborne will investigate opportunities for automated embedding of the optical fibers and the sensor system, with technologies such as automated fiber placement (AFP), automated textile manufacturing and pick-and-place for assembly. Airborne has extensive experience with optical fiber sensor technology and the embedding of the sensors in composites.

The minimally invasive smart microsystems will enable automated high-performance surveillance with a prolonged lifetime in dynamic and harsh environments. This reportedly will result in improved safety at economically acceptable cost (automated instead of manual surveillance). On wind blades, the microsystem will enable the turbine to operate much closer to its design limits, increasing wind energy capture and thus electrical energy output. But most of all, it will provide a continuous record of structural data which will inform decisions on maintenance, thereby obviating the need for expensive, periodic maintenance, as well as warning of potentially catastrophic mechanical failures, increasing safety remarkably.

SmartFiber is co-financed by the European commission and coordinated by imec. Xenics, Airborne, FBGS Technologies and Optocap cover almost the full value chain of the microsystem and are placed to absorb the technologies developed by the research partners imec, UGent and Fraunhofer IIS. This strategy gives industrial take-up and commercial development of the technology a huge chance.