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We’re All Getting Older: Accelerated Lifecycle and Fatigue Testing

We’re All Getting Older: Accelerated Lifecycle and Fatigue Testing

Posted on by Vanessa McMillan

Shrinking military budgets often necessitate the use of vehicles and aircraft well beyond their service lives. For example, according to STARS and STRIPES, among the Navy’s concerns is a rapidly aging Ready Reserve Force of 46 transport ships, which each average 44 years of age. Similar problems face the Air Force. In 1980, the average age of the Air Force’s bomber force has increased from under 20 years to 39 years and its tanker fleet from about 20 years to 38 years. It’s hard to imagine that Air Force pilots are flying planes designed in the 1970s. What’s more, when these vehicles are decommissioned, many are passed down to the US Forestry Service (as observational or fire-fighting aircraft) or to rural municipalities who need ambulance, police and fire vehicles. People’s lives (and sometimes the outcome of wars) hang on the accuracy and dependability of these vehicles. Being able to predict their fatigue life with accuracy can save time, maintenance costs, and ultimately lives.

Fatigue testing or accelerated-life testing is the process of testing a product by subjecting it to conditions (stress, strain, temperatures, voltage, vibration rate, pressure etc.) in excess of its normal service parameters in an effort to uncover faults and potential modes of failure in a short amount of time. In other words, the simulation of wear and tear over time. By analyzing the product’s response to such tests, engineers can make predictions about their potential service life and recommend maintenance intervals. Two popular methods of fatigue or life-cycle testing include accelerated hardware-in-the-loop simulation and accelerated field testing. Field testing is labor intensive, time consuming and expensive. Hardware in the loop is none of the above, however, not many pilots would feel entirely comfortable relying on the integrity of a plane that had only been tested using a software model. For more advanced testing, many engineers are turning to distributed sensing as the mechanism to help alleviate the guess work in determining an accurate end-of-life scenario. The reason they are embracing this advanced technology is that distributed sensing solutions provide a more detailed picture of the true health of a vehicle. With thousands of sensors contained in a single hair-thin fiber, distributed sensing solutions obtain real-time, spatially continuous information about multiple parameters (strain, temperature, deflection, etc.). All these parameters can be measured simultaneously using a single system – thus saving considerable time and money. In addition, they can also be measured in the actual simulated conditions such a vehicle encounters in the real world, without subjecting them to real-world field testing. This includes, rugged environments with extreme temperature fluctuations, radiation, and high EMI/RFI readings.

Some applications that utilize distributed sensing for end-of-life assessment include crack detection, deformation monitoring, deflection monitoring, composite health, liquid-level monitoring, corrosion sensing, temperature elevation, and more. Each of these assessments allow an engineer to predict – often down to the number of flight hours or miles of service – how long a vehicle will remain safe and functional, enabling decisions to retire or decommission a vehicle or aircraft before a serious accident occurs.

For more information:
View our Applications page about Structural Health Monitoring
View our Case Studies page about Structural Analysis, Structural Health Monitoring, and Nondestructive Evaluation
View our Whitepapers page for an Introduction to Fiber Optic Sensing

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