Tech Briefs

This device detects microscopic cracks and surface structural changes in components.

This non-destructive, optical fatigue detection and monitoring system relies on a small and unobtrusive light-scattering sensor that is installed on a component at the beginning of its life in order to periodically scan the component in situ. The method involves using a laser beam to scan the surface of the monitored component. The device scans a laser spot over a metal surface to which it is attached. As the laser beam scans the surface, disruptions in the surface cause increases in scattered light intensity. As the disruptions in the surface grow, they will cause the light to scatter more. Over time, the scattering intensities over the scanned line can be compared to detect changes in the metal surface to find cracks, crack precursors, or corrosion. This periodic monitoring of the surface can be used to indicate the degree of fatigue damage on a component and allow one to predict the remaining life and/or incipient mechanical failure of the monitored component.

This wireless, compact device can operate for long periods under its own battery power and could one day use harvested power. The prototype device uses the popular open-source TinyOS operating system on an off-the-shelf Mica2 sensor mote, which allows wireless command and control through dynamically reconfigurable multi-node sensor networks. The small size and long life of this device could make it possible for the nodes to be installed and left in place over the course of years, and with wireless communication, data can be extracted from the nodes by operators without physical access to the devices.

While a prototype has been demonstrated at the time of this reporting, further work is required in the system’s development to take this technology into the field, especially to improve its power management and ruggedness. It should be possible to reduce the size and sensitivity as well. Establishment of better prognostic methods based on these data is also needed. The increase of surface roughness with fatigue is closely connected to the microstructure of the metal, and ongoing research is seeking to connect this observed evidence of the fatigue state with microstructural theories of fatigue evolution to allow more accurate prognosis of remaining component life. Plans are also being discussed for flight testing, perhaps on NASA’s SOFIA platform.

This work was done by Benjamin D. Buckner and Vladimir Markov of MetroLaser, Inc. and James C. Earthman of the University of California for Dryden Flight Research Center.

Title to this invention, covered by U.S. Patent No. 7,221,445, has been waived under the provisions of the National Aeronautics and Space Act {42 U.S.C. 2457 (f)}. Inquiries concerning licenses for its commercial development should be addressed to MetroLaser Inc. 8 Chrysler, Irvine CA 92618 Refer to DRC-007-065, volume and number of this NASA Tech Briefs issue, and the page number. Refer to DRC-007-065.

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