GE Research, the technology development arm of GE, has been awarded a project through NextFlex, America’s Flexible Hybrid Electronics Manufacturing Institute, to develop and demonstrate embedded sensors in structural composites that enable improvements in manufacturing and monitoring.
As part of the project, a multidisciplinary team of composites manufacturing, sensor, electronics, and materials science experts from industry and academia will develop a sensor to embed in turbine blade composite structures to more closely study the resin-infusion process that is key to forming these structures.
By collecting sensor data during the manufacturing process, the team is aiming to discover new methods to reduce cycle time, material usage and overall costs.
The project is being led by GE Research principle engineer Dr Nancy Stoffel. Dr Stoffel said a key challenge is developing a robust sensor that does not alter or compromise the integrity of a given structure and component.
“Before you even identify the data you want to collect, you need to design a sensor that can live safely and reliably in a given component without impeding its performance,” she said.
Dr Stoffel said the team from GE Research will be collaborating with researchers from Binghamton University, Georgia Tech, and Sikorsky on the project.
Binghamton University, home of the New York node of NextFlex, brings deep expertise in direct write electronics manufacturing approaches and reliability of electronics and material systems.
Georgia Tech researchers are using their expertise in additively manufactured flexible RF modules, RFIDs and long-interrogation-range passive wireless sensors up to millimetre-wave frequencies for the development of large-area printed sensor constellations with unprecedented sensing range and resolution along with an excellent localization and discrimination capabilities.
GE Research focuses on the application of embedded sensors in wind blade structural composites, and Sikorsky will explore the use of these sensors in structural health monitoring of aircraft components.
GE Research wind technology leader Dr Shridhar Nath said that as the offshore wind industry continues to grow and turbines get larger and larger, the need for better ways to reduce manufacturing costs and to monitor assets offshore will become greater.
Embedded sensors, said Dr Nath, will be a key technology required to manage this industry scale up.
“In the factory, embedded sensors will give us more valuable data points we otherwise would not have to make needed process improvements that take out cost and improve the quality of parts,” Nath said.
“Once in the field, these sensors will provide a continuous line of sight to the condition of composite wind blades that will enable our business to move to a condition-based maintenance schedule that is more efficient and less costly.”