To provide a simpler, lower-cost method of ascertaining the safety of large structures, researchers at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland developed a high-tech paint capable of detecting microscopic manufacturing defects and stress flaws.
At a fraction of the cost of bringing in conventional instrumentation, the new environmentally-friendly "smart paint" can detect faults in mines, bridges, wind turbines and other large structures while they are still microscopic, using nanotechnology to detect movements within the framework before structural damage has a chance to progress, and the weakness-detecting paint covers more area than standard visual inspections, ScienceDaily reported.
Technicians simply spray the cement-like paint, made from recycled fly ash and highly aligned carbon nanotubes, onto the surface, then attach electrodes that detect invisible structural damage long before a failure can happen, according to the team.
The paint stands up to harsh environmental conditions and requires no specialized expertise to produce and apply, the researchers claimed.
Co-developer Mohamed Saafi, of the the University's Department of Civil Engineering, detailed how the detection paint works and its advantages:
“The process of monitoring involves in effect a wireless sensor network. The paint is interfaced with wireless communication nodes with power harvesting and warning capability to remotely detect any unseen damage such as micro-cracks in a wind turbine concrete foundation."“Current technology is restricted to looking at specific areas of a structure at any given time, however, smart paint covers the whole structure which is particularly useful to maximise the opportunity of preventing significant damage.”
The engineers have tested a prototype successfully doing end-to-end inspections under laboratory conditions and hope to test the material on larger structures soon.
According to Saafi, the smart paint technology has the potential to revolutionized the monitoring of structural safety around the world.