Fiber sensors pave the way for composite materials

3 February, 2016 - 09:00

Sensors integrated into innovative composite materials will allow the structural integrity of components in everything from bridges to airplanes to be monitored throughout their lifetimes. This new technology will benefit both industry and society. 

Composite materials are very attractive for lightweight constructions owing to their high performance, durability, flexibility and lower energy demands compared to metal and concrete. The downsides of composites are their specific handling requirements, and that they have not yet stood the test of time in the way that traditional materials have. But by integrating sensors into the material, the composite’s “health” can be monitored constantly, checking whether it is overloaded or excessively deformed. The sensors also give feedback on the structure’s behavior and performance – both important for future improvements to designs.

Fiber-optic strain sensors are ideal for this type of application. Thanks to their tiny size (around 0.1mm in diameter), they can be incorporated into the structures without affecting structural integrity. Acreo Swedish ICT has undertaken this type of integration in several industrial projects, producing complete monitoring systems that log and analyze the mechanical tension and deformation of the materials. 

The technology allows fixture manufacturer and partner FlexProp to provide better products, for example. Their smart fixtures allow customers such as airplane manufacturer Saab to adopt new, more efficient production methods similar to those from the car industry. For example, FlexProp has integrated fiber-optic strain sensors and carried out ongoing experimental measurements in a fixture that Saab uses in its production of airplane components.

Karl-Otto Strömberg, CEO of FlexProp, says: “In the longer term this means a significant competitive advantage for FlexProp: we can market next-generation industrial fixtures, produced in carbon-fiber laminate and which have an active health-monitoring system.”

The technology is promising for larger construction projects too, such as light-weight bridges. By integrating fiber-optic strain sensors into a bridge built of composite materials, it will last longer than a traditional construction and require less maintenance. The light weight also allows components to be produced off-site.

For more information

Erik Zetterlund
Group Manager, Senior Scientist
erik.zetterlund [at] acreo.se
+46 (0)70 719 64 03