Wireless sensors for lifetime aircraft monitoring

The project will develop a technology based on the incorporation of wireless sensors in the first steps of the manufacture of aeronautical structures

The Gaiker technology centre, located in the Science and Technology Park of Bizkaia, and TAMAG, a spin-off of the Magnetism Group of the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), based in the Science and Technology Park of Gipuzkoa, are part of the European project INFINITE- HORIZON-CL5-2021-D5-01-06- Next generation digital aircraft transformation in design, manufacturing, integration and maintenance, an initiative in which a technology based on the incorporation of wireless sensors in the first steps of the manufacturing of aeronautical structures will be developed.

Ikerbasque -Basque Foundation for Science-, an initiative of the Basque Government’s Department of Education that aims to strengthen the commitment to scientific research by attracting, recovering and consolidating excellent researchers from all over the world, also participates in the project by providing research staff. After 15 years of experience, the Basque Foundation for Science is a consolidated organisation, a scientific benchmark for attracting talent, with 312 researchers from 35 different countries, working in all fields of knowledge and with a firm commitment to the recruitment of women researchers and the return of researchers from the Basque Country who are currently working abroad.

INFINITE has a budget of €5.5 million and aims to continuously monitor the entire life cycle of aerostructures through smart materials. As part of the initiative, composites with integrated sensors will be developed to track the characteristics of these materials, from their manufacture to their final recycling, extending their useful life and improving their quality.

The project will help to address some of the main challenges facing the European aeronautics industry: improving the monitoring of manufacturing processes and aerostructure operating conditions, and reducing aerostructure costs. This requires knowledge of the behaviour and condition of aerostructure materials throughout their life cycle, which will help ensure their quality and make it possible to optimise these materials at each stage of their life cycle.

INFINITE plans to develop this through a technology based on the incorporation of wireless sensors during the manufacturing processes of aeronautical structures. Thanks to these sensors, it will be possible to track the entire life cycle of aeronautical structures: from on-site supervision of their manufacture, to optimisation of maintenance work, through repair and service review by monitoring their structural health (SHM), to the recycling of parts at the end of their useful life (EoL).

The sensors to be developed in the project are based on magnetic materials and amorphous ferromagnetic microwires, whose development will be led by the company TAMAG, located in the Miramón Park, which will be capable of reacting to electromagnetic radiation and will allow valuable information to be obtained on the state of the part at any time. These sensors will be incorporated together with dry carbon fibres, so that they will be embedded in the composite and their status will be monitored with a portable system that will make it possible to determine the loads and temperature to which the part is subjected, as well as to check its integrity.

The incorporation of these sensors in very early stages of the production life cycle of aerostructures will allow traceability of all subsequent stages of each component, and monitor their status with a non-invasive system to optimise their performance. This advanced monitoring has great potential for the European aeronautics industry as it will have an impact on cost reduction and component reliability, providing a competitive advantage to the main players in the sector in Europe such as equipment manufacturers (OEMs), component manufacturers and maintenance and repair operators (MROs).

The project consortium is led by the IDEKO technology centre, a member of the Basque Research & Technology Alliance (BRTA), with the participation of TITANIA, a company from Cadiz dedicated to the testing and calibration of aeronautical components, and RECICLALIA, a company based in Toledo that seeks solutions for the end of life cycle of composite material structures.

The project also has the collaboration of technology centres and leading companies in the aeronautical industry in Europe, such as the technology centre specialising in electronics and magnetism RISE (Sweden); the AMRC, an advanced manufacturing research group at the University of Sheffield (United Kingdom); Collins aerospace, a manufacturer of aeronautical components (Ireland); TEIJIN, a manufacturer of carbon fabrics (Germany); AEROFORM, a company dedicated to developing solutions and equipment for the repair of composite components (France); and CAE, an Austrian-based company dedicated to the simulation of complex processes.