The Bournemouth sensor can detect defects and risks in infrastructure at a much earlier stage than the methods currently in used, the university claims. It could therefore result in reduced costs as well as improved safety.
“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,” said Zulfiqar Khan professor of design engineering and computing at Bournemouth University, who led the development.
“This sensor works on the same principal. 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.”
Other industrial corrosion sensors require cables to be plugged in to a computer, which requires someone in site during maintenance. Zulfiqar Khan’s device is wireless so it can be attached to a structure and its readings can be continuously monitored off-site.
As a further benefit, his sensor can be used on any kind of surface, whereas most current devices only work on metallic surfaces, through which the electricity from the sensor must pass.
“The aerospace industry, for example, would prefer a sensor which can detect failures beneath non-metallic coatings. 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,” explained Professor Khan.
“Unmonitored failures lead to costly consequences. 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 millimetres below the surface which are not visible to the naked eye,” he continued.
Professor Khan’s corrosion 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. Professor Khan’s team worked on a method to monitor corrosion in the military vehicles. This work led to the development of a £2.5m conservation centre for the most at-risk tanks. The researchers also identified maintenance work which could be carried.
The team then secured funding in 2016 to work with infrastructure companies in the USA to commercialise the technology.
The technology has now been granted patents in the UK and the USA.