A fibre-optic-based technology aimed at measuring strain in composite components could soon find its way from yacht masts into the aerospace and offshore industries.
Fibre-optic sensor array technology, developed in a three-year Department of Trade and Industry-sponsored project, can determine real-time stresses and strains of critically-loaded composite laminate structures, such as yacht masts, aeroplane wings, and offshore umbilical tubes.
The project is led by yacht mast manufacturer Carbospars, and includes British Aerospace and Birmingham-based Aston University.
Known as Maritime Application of Smart Structures Technology (Mast), the technology centres on optical fibres because of their flexibility, and capacity to measure strain, temperature, translation, gyration, humidity, and magnetic and electric fields.
In the Smart Mast system, optical fibres are embedded within the laminate structure of the mast. The system has three elements: the fibre-sensor arrays, the remote opto-electronic instrument module, and the data display.
Carbospars developed three operational levels for data acquisition: real-time overview, giving data on the status of the composite structure under sailing conditions; peak strain data at one-second intervals which can be recorded for the lifetime of the structure; and black-box, which records all data for the past five minutes.
It has built four large composite masts with optical-fibre load sensors embedded into their laminates. Work on these has been used to develop sensor-array installation techniques.
Carbospars sees further uses for the technology in critically-loaded hull areas, such as the hull-to-keel interface. A Smart Mast is to be installed in a 42ft yacht this month.