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‘Skin’ Senses Structural Defects

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

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A new “sensing skin” developed for nuclear plants could flag damage on a multitude of concrete structures, allowing more response time before a potential failure, researchers say.

The coating technology works as an early warning system for numerous concrete structures, said scientists from North Carolina State University and University of Eastern Finland, who are developing the material.

sensing skin
Wikimedia Commons

The "sensing skin" is an electrically conductive coat of paint that is applied over electrodes placed around the perimeter of a new or existing structure.

"The sensing skin could be used for a wide range of structures, but the impetus for the work was to help ensure the integrity of critical infrastructure such as nuclear waste storage facilities," said Dr. Mohammad Pour-Ghaz, an assistant professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering at NC State and co-author of a paper on the research.

How it Works

The "skin" is an electrically conductive coat of paint that is applied over electrodes placed around the perimeter of a new or existing structure.

The paint can use multiple kinds of conductive materials, like copper, making it relatively inexpensive, researchers said.

A computer program is used to run a small current between two of the electrodes at a time, cycling through the possible electrode combinations. As the current runs between the electrodes, the computer records the electrical potential at all of the electrodes on the structure and calculates the skin's spatially distributed electrical conductivity.

If conductivity decreases, that means the structure has a crack or has been damaged. The researchers developed algorithms to register damage and determine where that damage is on the structure.

North Carolina State University
Dr. Aku Seppänen via NCSU.edu

"The idea is to identify problems quickly so that they can be addressed before they become big problems and—in the case of some critical infrastructure—so that public safety measures can be implemented," said Dr. Mohammad Pour-Ghaz.

Determining the damage location has been a "challenging mathematical problem," said Dr. Aku Seppänen, an Academy Research Fellow in the Department of Applied Physics at the University of Eastern Finland and co-author of the paper.

 

"We had to develop new computational methods to more reliably determine where the damage is. Ultimately, I think our work represents an advance over previous algorithms in terms of accuracy," Seppänen said.

Small Scale to Big Problems

"The idea is to identify problems quickly so that they can be addressed before they become big problems and—in the case of some critical infrastructure—so that public safety measures can be implemented," Dr. Pour-Ghaz said.

So far, the researchers have tested and demonstrated the sensing skin's accuracy on concrete beams less than a meter wide.

"Our next step is to extend this to large geometrics," Pour-Ghaz said.

"We want to show that this will work on real-world structures."

The researchers' paper, "Electrical impedance tomography-based sensing skin for quantitative imaging of damage in concrete," was published June 18 in the online edition of the journal Smart Materials and Structures.

   

Tagged categories: Colleges and Universities; Concrete; Concrete defects; Infrastructure; Research

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