Early detection of fissures in industrial structures

Industrial sectors such as automation, energy and mechanical manufacturing are more increasingly in the need of including predictive maintenance techniques and processes, in order to improve their product quality and reduce their maintenance costs.

In such scenarios, fatigue is a cumulative phenomenon that appears when material is subjected to repeated loading and unloading. When this happens and the target is stressed beyond its critical threshold, microscopic cracks begin to form, which will eventually end fracturing the structure. Thus, smart sensors must be placed in the critical zones, in order to early monitor the growth and evolution of the cracks.

Solution approaches

As it is described within WP3’s use case 1.3 in MANTIS project, which focuses on developing a framework for smart sensing and data acquisition technologies, there are several detection techniques for direct crack measurements, such us regular strain gauges and crack gauges. These last elements are made of aligned grids which are disconnected one by one with the propagation of the crack. The drawback comes in terms of placement, as the location of the failure is not always predictable and therefore it would require a complex multi-gauge installation, in order to cover a large area of sensorization and anticipate the formation of cracks.

Another approach which is being analyzed and tested within use case 1.3, is the utilization of conductive inks, which could give more flexibility in terms of placement and the design of the sensorization area to be monitored.

Installation requirements

If the fissure detection is performed with conductive inks a necessary requirement must be taken into account. As the structures that are monitored are electrically conductive, an insulation layer must be deposited between the structure and the conductive ink. For the efficient detection of fissures, this insulation layer should break with the structure, but it must not brittle with time, temperature, humidity, etc. Even more, it should be easily deposited, as the structure may be located in a difficult to access place.

According to the conductive ink, it should also be of easy deposition, with low resistivity and withstand high temperatures without breaking.

Current tests

In the preliminary tests, a Magnesia paste based insulation layer has been used and on top of it, a vinyl mask layer has been stuck for the definition of the conductive layer structure. As conductive ink, a low resistivity silver ink has been used, defining two structures: a gage structure, Figure 1, and continuous conductive line.

Conductive ink structures
Conductive ink structures

During the fissure measurements, the gage structure has been supplied and measured, recording both current and voltage. As it is shown in Figure 2, as the lines of the gage structure break, an increase in the measured voltage and resistance is recorded.

Fissure detection measurements
Fissure detection measurements

Thus, properly deposited and structure adapted conductive inks could stand as a solution for the early detection of fissures in industrial structures.