NEW Wireless, Harsh-environment Sensors

Jet Engine Helps Bring UMaine Sensor Out of The Research Lab

ORONO ME, USA ??? After nearly 10 years in research, development and testing, engineers and scientists in the University of Maine???s interdisciplinary Laboratory for Surface Science & Technology (LASST) have created state-of-the-art wireless high-temperature sensors able to withstand temperatures of up to at least 1,800 ??F ??? more than twice as hot as any wireless sensor that previously existed.

They are now taking prototypes of the wireless microwave acoustic sensors from the laboratory to more realistic proving grounds, thanks to the Maine Air National Guard???s (ANG) indefinite loan of a jet turbine engine to the university.

University faculty, staff and student researchers have been investigating and testing their novel wireless sensors on small model jet engines, and the instrumentation of larger engines, such as the one made available by the ANG, offers the possibility of executing additional tests in realistic turbine engine environments.

???Testing our sensors in the ANG engine will be extremely valuable for validating the long term reliability and accuracy of our sensors,??? says Mauricio Pereira da Cunha, Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UMaine.

The new wireless, harsh-environment sensors, which da Cunha and Bob Lad, Professor of Physics and Director of LASST, have been developing with funding from the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army, plus university and state grant funds, are expected to save the aerospace industry and military billions of dollars in costs associated with jet engine maintenance.

With the tiny sensors attached to spinning jet engine blades and other moving parts, technicians can monitor such things as pressure, temperature, strain, vibration, and corrosion, and better control engine health and maintenance.

Because such sensors have not been available, jet engine mechanics routinely and laboriously dismantle engine parts according to maintenance schedules to look for evidence of wear or damage.

In addition, the sensors will improve engine efficiency thereby saving large amounts of fuel costs.

???Demonstration of the performance of wireless sensors in jet engines is being watched by others with keen interest,??? da Cunha says. Partnering organizations range from private-sector companies including Pratt & Whitney, Rolls Royce, Honeywell and General Electric to NASA and several branches of the United States military.

A key component of the technology is the use of a piezoelectric material known as langasite ??? lanthanum gallium silicate (LGS), which is shock resistant and stable at such high temperatures.?? Changes in the langasite material properties that occur in the harsh environment are used to perform the sensing.

The University of Maine has two patents awarded and three pending on the microwave acoustic sensor devices, high-temperature materials, and wireless communication.?? With their harsh-environment sensor technology, the tiny sensors can be attached to jet engine parts operating with a G force acceleration in excess of 50,000 and temperatures in excess of 1,800 ??F.

UMaine has received more than $3.6 million from the Wright-Patterson Air Force Research Laboratory in Dayton, Ohio, to help develop the technology for commercialization and deployment in military aircraft.

The UMaine technology is being licensed to Environetix Technologies Corporation, a new spin-off company from LASST located in Orono???s Target Technology Incubator, which employs several recent UMaine graduates.

The University of Maine's Laboratory for Surface Science and Technology

UMaine???s Laboratory for Surface Science & Technology (LASST) plays a major role in educating and training the next generation of scientists and engineers while carrying out interdisciplinary research projects and technology transfer activities in the areas of surfaces and interfaces, thin films, microelectronic devices, sensor technology, and nanotechnology.

The University of Maine
Orono, Maine 04469 USA

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