A University of Massachusetts Lowell (UMASS Lowell) research team is working to create sensor-laden fabrics that monitor the structural health of buildings, roadways and bridges. The university has partnered with a research and development company to create new, cost-effective, sensor-laden textiles that can be used to monitor the structural health and integrity of vital infrastructures, including buildings and skyscrapers, roadways, bridges, tunnels, railway tracks, dams and pipelines.
UMass Lowell team leader Assoc. Prof. Tzuyang Yu and Prof. Pradeep Kurup of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, along with Prof. Xingwei Wang of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, are collaborating with researchers from Saint-Gobain, a multinational corporation with an R&D center based in Northborough, to develop fabrics integrated with optical fibers and sensors. These sensing fabrics can be applied to existing structures to monitor strain or detect cracks in their early stages, thereby minimizing maintenance costs, environmental impacts and disruptions to individuals and businesses.
In 2016, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave America’s infrastructures an overall grade of D+, indicating they urgently need major repairs and improvements to make them safe, sustainable and economically efficient. The new textiles aim to contribute toward that effort.
“Optical fiber sensors are very suitable for structural health monitoring due to their lightweight, low-cost survivability in harsh environments and immunity to electromagnetic environments,” said Wang. “More importantly, they can provide fully distributed sensing information about an object’s structural integrity. Combined with novel textile technology, the sensing fabrics will be relatively easy to install and maintain and they’ll be useful for long-distance sensing applications.”
The project is supported by an $853,000 grant from the Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA), which is part of the National Network of Manufacturing Innovation Institutes. AFFOA’s mission is to enable the manufacturing industry to transform traditional fibers, yarns and textiles into highly functional, integrated and networked devices and systems. In addition, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts awarded the researchers a $550,000 grant through the Massachusetts Manufacturing Innovation Initiative (M2I2).
Scientists, engineers, interns and co-ops at Saint-Gobain will be trained in this emerging technology, the team said. “At UMass Lowell, we anticipate that the project will be used to train future engineers at both undergraduate and graduate levels in civil and electrical engineering,” said Yu. “In addition, Saint-Gobain and UMass Lowell will hold training workshops designed to educate users on the value of infrastructure sensing and system capabilities.”