Ghent University, imec and SMARTFIBER have designed the world’s first miniaturized fiber-optical sensor system that can be fully embedded in a composite material. The system can automatically monitor the structural health of the composite material in a variety of materials, such as tidal blades, wind turbines, airplanes and marine structures.

The embedded Fiber Bragg Grating (FBG) sensors, can detect cracks and strain levels in the composite materials, which could prevent leaks or breakage. These sensors have several advantages compared to other strain monitoring techniques (e.g. electrical strain gauges), including compactness, light weight, immunity to electromagnetic interferences, high resistance to corrosion, high temperature operation and multiplexing capability. The sensors can become read out over distances longer than 20 km (12.4 miles).

The FBG sensors were designed to minimally impact the strength of the composite material with their record-small diameter and unprecedented elongation at breakage. Combining automatic techniques to embed the sensors in the composite and the use of silicon-based microfabrication processes lowers the cost of embedded strain sensors substantially.