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Case Study

Support for National Composites Centre on sensor work

CPI is working with the National Composites Centre (NCC) to design and make a low-cost, printed wireless sensor that can be used to monitor a composite part during manufacture and in-service.

CPI is working with the NCC to produce an embedded strain sensor capable of withstanding composites processing, while maintaining the integrity of the printed electronics and advanced composites.

The project will produce a proof-of-concept prototype that will show an embedded sensor in an advanced composite laminate that is suitable for both wireless and non-wireless power and communication.

The objectives

It is beneficial to monitor performance of a material during manufacture and in service.

To this end, a strain sensor that can monitor the physical response of a structure to an applied force is of critical importance to apply composite materials into new areas where performance sensing is compulsory.

The activities

CPI and the NCC have carried out a series of tests to ascertain the compatibility of printed electronics with advanced composite materials (glass and carbon composites).

These tests have been carried out to find the best integration approach to print lightweight circuitry and easy-to-embed strain sensors that will be important in advanced polymer composites.

A strain sensor, printed on a flat, flexible polymeric film, will be embedded or integrated into an advanced composites structure that can demonstrate real-time structural health monitoring via a PC display interface, and also through wireless communication for data-based maintenance and specific life assessment of the composites infrastructure.

The outputs

Based on the results of the tests carried out during this study, CPI and NCC have determined a method suitable for embedding sensing electronics into composites parts.

CPI has designed several printable strain sensors and has developed a system for testing these with composites for real-time structural health monitoring from a PC display, using data acquisition software.

CPI has also designed, developed and assembled a wireless communication method suitable for use with glass fibre composites.

It is working with the NCC to finalise a proposal for a follow-on project to tackle the challenges of wireless communication in carbon fibre composites, which are known to have challenges with wireless connectivity.

The outcome

The long-term vision for this project is to print a network of sensors directly onto a composite structure (or embedded into one), for continuous health and usage monitoring to give extra safety features and responsiveness to composites structures.

The design, development and implementation of printable electronics by CPI, combined with the design, process and advanced composites manufacturing capability of the NCC, have been brought together to create greater intrinsic learning for embedding and sensing in composites.

The ability to use low-cost sensing techniques during manufacture, assembly processes and in-service allows for the exploitation of composites in new areas.

The outcome from this project will be a substantial reduction in part count and assembly complexity, as well as the creation of simple, low-cost methods to integrate structural health monitoring in composites structures.

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