Researchers at Bournemouth University (Bournemouth, United Kingdom) have developed and patented a new corrosion sensor that could improve the safety and reliability of large structures such as bridges, aircraft, military vehicles, and gas pipelines.
The sensor can detect defects and risks in major infrastructure at a much earlier stage than current methods. Along with improving safety, the device could reduce the need for time-consuming repairs, which can come at significant cost and inconvenience to both industry and the public.
“Our doctors often encourage us to take health screenings regularly, so they can diagnose conditions at an early stage, which gives us better options for treatment,” says Zulfqar Khan, professor of design engineering and computing at Bournemouth University and lead developer of the project. “This sensor works on the same principle. If we can spot health risks in vehicles and mechanical structures before corrosion reaches an advanced and dangerous stage, we can avoid costly, lengthy repairs and hopefully prevent structures from being scrapped altogether.”
While other corrosion sensors are used by industry—and some can even be bought on eBay—they all require cables to be plugged into a computer. This means that maintenance must take place with a worker present at the site. By contrast, Khan’s sensor is wireless, which means it can be attached to a structure and its readings could be continuously monitored offsite.
Whereas most current devices only work on metallic surfaces through which the electricity of the sensor must pass through, Khan’s sensor can be used on any kind of surface, thereby providing a further benefit to would-be consumers.
“The aerospace industry, for example, would prefer a sensor which can detect failures beneath non-metallic coatings,” explains Khan. “Currently, this involves removing a patch of the non-conductive coating to make the conductive surface available—this could be counter-productive as it can initiate corrosion more rapidly.”
“Unmonitored failures lead to costly consequences,” continues Khan. “Scheduled inspections are tedious, time consuming, and are mostly limited to visual or surface failures. Our latest sensor technology is a futuristic, much needed solution. It can work remotely, it works on metallic and non-metallic surfaces, and can detect defects several millimeters below the surface which are not visible to the naked eye.”
Khan’s sensor is the latest development from a series of research projects that began more than a decade ago at the Bovington Tank Museum in Dorset. The museum holds one of the most significant collections of tanks and military vehicles in the world. Khan’s team applied their expertise to develop a means to monitor corrosion in the vehicles to help preserve their cultural heritage.
This work ultimately led to the development of a £2.5 million ($3.0 million) conservation center for the most at-risk tanks. Khan’s team also identified maintenance work to be carried out on some tanks that would enable them to be driven safely at showgrounds and seen in action. The team then secured funding to work with infrastructure companies in the U.S., where the technology enhanced their business and brought commercial benefits.
Now that the technology has been granted U.S. and U.K. patents, Khan and his team are eager to work with partners so that it can be utilized, particularly within the engineering and construction industries. Along with the benefits it would provide for operational infrastructure, the sensor would help companies with large fleets of vehicles or machinery that may be kept in depots and not regularly used or serviced.
“It is a bit like coming home from work and deciding you want some food that has been at the back of the cupboard, only to find it is past its use-by date,” says Khan. “Our device can continually monitor mechanical structures to ensure they always remain in date and will not have to be thrown out.”
To learn more about the sensor and its potential applications, contact Prof. Khan at email@example.com.
Source: Bournemouth University, www.bournemouth.ac.uk.