UBCO researchers hope to prevent catastrophes with next-generation sensors

Research Excellence | Strategy 9: Knowledge Exchange
Theme: Innovation
UBCO researchers are investigating ways to ensure wear-resistant coatings, designed to protect turbines, propellers, bridges and other structures, are not deteriorating over time.

As the wind and rain pound the blades of a wind turbine, UBC Okanagan researchers carefully monitor screens, hundreds of kilometres away analyzing if the blade’s coatings can withstand the onslaught.

While this was only a test in a lab, the researchers are working to improve the way structures such as turbines, helicopter propellers and even bridges are monitored for wear and tear from the weather.

A changing climate is increasing the need for better erosion-corrosion monitoring in a wide range of industries from aviation to marine transportation and from renewable energy generation to construction, explains UBC Okanagan doctoral student Vishal Balasubramanian.

In many industries, wear-resistant coatings are used to protect a structure from erosive wear. However, these coatings have a limited service life and can wear out with time. As a result, these coated structures are periodically inspected for abrasion and breaches, which are then fixed by recoating the damaged areas.

Currently, these inspections are done manually using a probe, and Balasubramanian—one of several researchers working in UBC’s Okanagan Microelectronics and Gigahertz Applications (OMEGA) lab—is working to develop sensors that can be embedded directly into the coatings. This could take away any chance of human-caused errors and drastically reduce the inspection time. By integrating artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR) into these embedded sensors the researchers can monitor in real-time the wear and tear of protective mechanical coatings designed to prevent catastrophic failures.

“By leveraging AI technologies into our microwave resonator sensors, we’re able to detect not only surface-level coating erosion but we can also distinguish when an individual layer is being eroded within a multi-layer coating,” explains Balasubramanian, lead author of the research recently published in Nature Communications.

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