European FP7 funded project SmartFiber, a consortium led by imec
and including partners Ghent University, Airborne, FBGS Technologies, Xenics,
Fraunhofer and Optocap, 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 e.g. wind turbine
blades, satellites, airplanes, civil constructions, oil and gas wells, and boat
hulls. Thanks to the innovative approach of integrating micro-technologies,
SmartFiber will demonstrate a smart system so small (mm-scale) that it can be
embedded in a fiber-reinforced polymer.
Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) pictures of a 4-channel Si photonics spectral demultiplexer – key building blocks of a photonic integrated circuit.
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 realization of a fiber interrogation scheme or spectral analyser as a photonic
integrated circuit (PIC), which has typical dimensions in the order of several
hundreds of 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 disruptive
approach has the potential to become the enabler for continuous FBG sensor technology
in composites and to become the true driver to realize intelligent composites.
The minimally invasive smart microsystems will enable automated high-performance
surveillance with a prolonged lifetime in dynamic and harsh environments. This
will result in extremely improved safety, at economically acceptable cost (automated
instead of manual surveillance). Think about wind turbine blade monitoring.
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 (FP7-STREP SmartFiber, www.smartfiber-fp7.eu) is co-financed by
the European commission and coordinated by imec. The industrial involvement
in SmartFiber is significant: Xenics, Airborne, FBGS Technologies and Optocap
cover almost the full value chain of the microsystem and are perfectly 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.