New Tool Detects Fiber-Reinforced Polymer Wear & Tear
We’ve mentioned many times how epoxy resin is often reinforced with fibers to form composites that provide superior performance in a host of products. Everything from sporting goods to space craft and windmill turbines use composite polymers for increased structural strength, durability and dependability. However, even the most dependable products and technologies require monitoring, maintenance and fail-safe measures…
The new polymer detection process is an additive whereby small molecules that fluoresce are integrated into fiber-reinforced composites. Developed by a team at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the molecules called “mechanophores,” “change color or light up” under special microscopy techniques – revealing microscopic openings and cracks between fiber and resin. The new process enables the monitoring of material wear and tear over time for fiber-reinforced polymers (FRPs).
If the new mechanophore is embedded in structures made of FRP, field testing for fatigue could be done inexpensively and on a regular basis. Structures like wind turbines could frequently be scanned easily for interior cracks, even years after they have been erected. “This gives us the ability to develop better, more fatigue-resistant composites,” said NIST chemist Jeff Gilman. “We can see when the fiber starts to break. We now have a way to quantify the damage,” from ‘New Tool to Detect Damage in Fiber Reinforced Polymers Using Fluorescing Molecules’
Applications for fiber-reinforced polymers are ever-evolving and the market for these composites continues to grow. FRPs are increasingly integrated into myriad industries for a variety of solutions:
- Construction – both to retrofit, reinforce and repair existing structures as well as to manufacture new structures such as bridge surfaces, pipelines and guardrails
- Marine – FRPs provide an ideal material for marine applications in boats, bridges, platforms and pipes due to their moisture and corrosion resistance, light weight and superior strength
- Energy – used for wind turbine blades, to protect electronic components and to line storage tanks, FRPs provide electrical insulating capabilities, chemical and heat resistance and structural integrity
- Consumer Goods – sporting goods, musical instruments and even soda can liners all benefit from the integration of FRPs
- High-Tech Transportation – spacecraft, aircraft and even automobiles benefit from FRP integration realizing material gains including lighter weight, increased tensile strength, better environmental tolerances, lower parts & production costs and greater fuel economies
New FRP damage detection technologies will be a boon to all these industries and more. Implementing scheduled monitoring and maintenance procedures of structures will help extend their lifecycle and ensure their safe and ongoing operation.