The application of MEMS and nanotechnology (MNT) to the field of structural health monitoring (SHM) is a fairly recent development. The recent change in this focus for MNT has been driven by the need to expand the applications for much of the technologies that were developed in the late 1990s. In addition, many companies desire to expand beyond their target high volume market segments of automotive, wireless communications, and computer peripherals, since these market segments were not as lucrative as first predicted.
Most of the aerospace structural health monitoring developmental activity has been sponsored by agencies of the U.S. Government, which serves to pace the examination of these newer technologies to some degree. With that said, efforts are underway by companies such as Acellent Technologies and Blue Road Research to explore various
MNT structural health monitoring approaches. The MNT under test include embedded piezoelectric sensors, MEMS accelerometers, time domain region sensors, and topical and embedded single and multi-axis fiber optic Bragg grating sensors.
The promise of MNT for the SHM market segment is very enticing. The many wireless communication developments and miniaturization developments of the past five years is very attractive to the SHM community, especially those that are able to reduce the cost and
complexity of integration. The main challenge for the community is one of selective integration. That is, certain pieces may be appropriate for SHM systems and certain pieces may not be. The better companies will chose wisely and put forth an approach that can be
seamlessly integrated into the larger structure.
For over a decade, Blue Road Research has been developing technologies aimed at structural health monitoring of both composite and non-composite parts, through the use of single and multiaxis fiber optic Bragg grating sensors. These sensors are 80 to 120 microns in diameter making them smaller than the diameter of a human hair. Multiaxis fiber optic sensors are able to measure pressure, temperature, axial and transverse strain, chemical properties, corrosion, as well as transverse strain gradients.
This technology is easily embedded in between the various layers of the composite structure, during manufacture, without compromising the structural integrity, in order to verify manufacturing parameters during the cure cycle and well as monitor the on-going condition of the composite structure throughout its life time. This paper reviews some of the technical work that has been accomplished during the past two years; specifically the embedding of fiber optic sensors into various composite structures in order to be able to conduct in situ non-destructive evaluation of the curing process and the service life of the component. The fiber optic technology has been developed to the point that it is at a TRL of 6.