Accurate structural health monitoring in composites: With fibre Bragg grating sensors

Aydin Rajabzadeh

Research output: ThesisDissertation (TU Delft)

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Compared to metals, composite materials offer higher stiffness, more resilience to corrosion, have lighter weights, and their mechanical properties can be tailored by their layup configuration. Despite these features, composite materials are susceptible to a diversity of damages, including matrix cracks, delamination, and fibre breakage. If these damages are not detected and mended, they can spread and result in the failure of the whole structure. In particular, when the structure is under fatigue and vibrations during flight, this process can expedite. Moreover, if such damages occur in the internal layers of the composite material, they will be difficult to detect and to characterise. There is thus a huge demand for reliable and accurate structural health monitoring methods to identify these defects. Such methods either try to monitor the structural integrity of the composite during service, or they are used for studying a desired configuration of a composite material during fatigue and tensile tests. This thesis provides structural health monitoring solutions that can potentially be used for both these categories. The structural health monitoring applications developed in this thesis range from accurate strain and displacement measurement, to detection of cracks and the identification of damages in composites. In this thesis, fibre Bragg grating (FBG) sensors were chosen for this purpose. The miniature size and small diameter of these sensors makes them an ideal candidate for embedding them between composite layers, without severely altering the mechanical properties of the host composite material. They can thus provide us with direct information about the current state of the laminated composite, potentially at any depth. This is especially useful for acquiring information about the internal layers of the composite material, as barely visible impact damages and micro-cracks often form beneath the surface of the material without being visible on its exterior. In spite of their interesting physical characteristics, applications of FBG sensors are typically limited to point strain or temperature sensors. Further, it is often assumed that the strain field along the sensor length is uniform. For this reason, there is currently a gap in the field of structural health monitoring in retrieving meaningful information about the non-uniform strain field to which the FBG sensor is subjected in damaged structures. The focus of this thesis is on analysing the response of FBG sensors to highly non-uniform strain fields, which are a characteristic of the existence of damage in composites. To tackle this problem, first a new model for the analysis of FBG responses to nonuniform strain fields will be presented. Using this model, two algorithms are presented to accurately estimate the average of such non-uniform axial strain fields, which conventional strain estimation algorithms fail to deliver. In fact, it is shown that the state-of-the-art strain estimation methods using FBG sensors can lead to errors of up to a few thousand microstrains, and the presented algorithms in this thesis can compensate for such errors. It was also shown that these methods are robust against spectral noise from the interrogation system, which can pave the way for more affordable FBG based strain estimation solutions. Another contribution of this thesis is the demonstration of two new algorithms for thedetection of matrix cracks, and for accurate monitoring of the delamination growth in composites, using conventional FBG sensors. These algorithms are in particular useful for studying the mechanical behaviour of laminated composites in laboratory setups. For instance, the matrix crack detection algorithm is capable of characterising internal transverse cracks along the FBG length during tensile tests. Along the same lines, the delamination growth monitoring algorithm can accurately localise the delamination crack tip along the FBG length in mode-I tensile and fatigue tests. These algorithms can perform in real-time, which makes them ideal for dynamic measurement of crack propagation under fatigue, and their spatial resolution and accuracy is superior to the other state-of-the-art damage detection techniques. Finally, to enhance the precision of the damage detection schemes presented in this thesis, two different methods are proposed to accurately determine the active gauge length of the FBG sensor, and its position along the optical fibre. This information is generally not provided for commercial FBG sensors with such accuracy, which can adversely affect the precision of crack tip localisation algorithms. Following the algorithms provided in this thesis, the sensor position can be marked on the optical fibre with micrometer accuracy.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Delft University of Technology
  • Groves, R.M., Supervisor
  • Hendriks, R.C., Supervisor
  • Heusdens, R., Supervisor
Award date20 Oct 2020
Print ISBNs978-94-6384-155-9
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • fiber optic sensing
  • fiber bragg gratings
  • damage detection
  • aerospace composites
  • smart structures
  • structural health monitoring
  • optimization
  • algorithms

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