Embedding sensors in composite materials

Why embed sensors in composite materials?

A standard optical fiber can be used as a very sensitive, continuous sensor of temperature and strain. Fiber optic systems can detect and measure more than thousand points of strain or temperature per meter of the fiber length. The accuracy and sensitivity of these fiber optic sensors are on par with for example strain gauges.

Furthermore, optical fibers are suitable for embedding in composite materials. This is the case since fiber optic sensors are lightweight, small, and flexible, and can therefore be installed on composite parts regardless of geometry. It is even possible to install the sensors within a part and measure the internal strain. This way, loads that are invisible to strain-gage or vision-based systems, can be measured.

A good thing to mention is that embedding fiber optic sensors in a composite structure has no damaging effect on the performance of the structure. Also, fiber optic sensors are passive, can withstand chemical environments, are immune to electrical fields, and exhibit excellent fatigue performance, unlike metal-foil strain gauges.

How does embedding fiber optic sensors in composite materials work?


Embedding fiber optic sensors in Ampelmann’s Composite Slideway

A slideway is the part of the system that provides access form the vessel to the system’s transfer deck. The slideway is motion compensated, which makes it easy for the operators and transferees to safely reach the transfer deck, while the gangway is connected to an offshore platform.

By using composite materials for the slideway the standard for safety and efficiency in offshore access operations is raised. Because this new slideway is made of composite material in stead of steel, it is lighter, better, more efficient, and more durable. The fact that the composite slideway is lighter, reduces the energy consumption of both the vessel it is installed on, and the system. Furthermore, composites are corrosion resistant, which results in lower maintenance costs.

To add on the durability, Somni implemented fiber optic sensors. The fiber optic sensors are embedded in the composite material and can be used for structural health monitoring. By using a structural health monitoring system, the state of the structure can be tracked during its lifetime.


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Rik Knoppers


Eric Meijer


Remco Nieuwland