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Development of sensory fiber-reinforced plastics

Sensory fiber-reinforced plastics are classified as a novel kind of composite materials showing sophisticated properties. These materials are designed in the course of an interdisciplinary project within the SFB 1244 dealing with the investigation and development of tools and methods for the planning, construction and operating of tomorrow’s built environment. In this context, the overall aim of the project is defined by the integration of transparent and non-transparent sensory fiber-reinforced plastics into the facade of a ten-storied demonstrator tower enabling the detection of external stress such as surface cracks or strain.
The basic structure of sensory fiber-reinforced plastics is depicted in Scheme 1.
Scheme1: General structure of a sensory fiber-reinforced plastic.

In this regard, the fiber fabric is embedded covalently by an appropriate polymer network which enhances tremendously the mechanical parameters of the polymer such as elasticity and strength. The sensory properties, which are the key features of the system, are generated by imprinting a conductive interdigital structure on the surface of the composite material. Thus, a continuous current applied on the interdigital surface structure can be detected consistently as electrical signal. In this context, the generated electrical signal is highly dependent on length variations within the interdigital structure that might be caused by external stress or even damage on the surface. Therefore, the detected electrical signal will remain constant without external stress or will change measurably in the presence of stress (refer to Scheme 2).
Scheme 2: The current-carrying interdigital structure on the composite surface generates an electrical signal which can be easily detected. The absence of any external stress leads to a constant electrical signal (a). External stress applied on the component causes a change of the electrical signal (b).