Structural Health Monitoring (SHM) is the process of detecting damage in a structure with a view to evaluating its ability to carry the loads required of it. It can help to ensure the safety, reliability and availability of vehicles. In particular, commercial aircraft manufacturers have investigated SHM and consider it to offer important benefits in terms of reducing structural inspections, detecting corrosion and evaluating the effect of hard landings.
The extra information that a comprehensive system could provide may also allow designers to reduce the weight of future aircraft structures. Additionally, pilotless aircraft are becoming more and more common and their requirement for SHM is perhaps stronger than on a manned aircraft, since they have no pilot to give feedback about extreme flying events and the state of the airframe. Indeed, on-board SHM is viewed as a critical requirement before unmanned aircraft are allowed to operate autonomously in civil airspace.
While the benefits may be significant, the obstacles to the implementation of aircraft SHM are numerous. They include the integration of sensors into structures, understanding of their outputs, correlation with existing damage detection techniques, overcoming regulatory barriers to changing maintenance philosophies and, last but not least, the availability of flight-worthy monitoring equipment. Smart Fibres is a technology leader in this last area, offering high performance interrogators which are rugged, lightweight and capable of stand-alone operation. We can share the benefits of our extensive experience with manufacturers and operators, helping them to carry out trials and enabling fibre-optic sensing technologies to gain acceptance by the aerospace community.