An intelligent yacht mast that can sense the potentially catastrophic stresses and strains caused by high winds has been developed by engineers at Smart Fibres Ltd in Southampton, UK. By incorporating optical sensing technology into composite mast structures, the engineers have been able to build a smart mast that can provide sailors with a real-time picture of the stresses being placed on the yacht. The technology will also provide engineers and designers with longer term structural data and can feed into black-box recording in case of a catastrophic event. The smart masts are built using carbon fibre composite materials laced with optical fibres containing a string of optical sensors throughout its length. These sensors are typically a few millimetres in length and are imprinted into the fibre using two ultra-violet wavelength laser beams. When light is launched down the fibre, each sensor acts as a tiny mirror that only reflects one particular wavelength of light. As the sensor experiences stress or strain, the wavelength of the light reflected changes accordingly. The information picked up by each of the sensors is then transmitted back to a remote optoelectronic data processing unit which builds up a picture of the loading placed on the mast and boom throughout their length, and throughout their lifetime.
The technology has the potential for use in a wide range of industries including aerospace, civil engineering, transportation and offshore industries. Full article is due to appear as "Smart composites for the marine industry" by Lorna Everall and Damon Roberts, in the July issue of Materials World, Volume 7, Issue 7, p.406. More information: Institute of Materials
, Andrew McLaughlin