Bangalore: Scientists at the National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) are working on gen-next components that will make planes smarter and healthier. Through Structural Health Monitoring (SHM) of composites, scientists are confident that the performance of the flying machines too will increase. The research is being carried out at the Advanced Composites Division (ACD) of NAL with the sole aim of carrying out SHM of planes while they are in flight. NAL is a premier wing of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research.
Sharing some finer points of the close-guarded research with Express, Dr Ramesh Sundaram, Senior Principal Scientist & Deputy Head, ACD, said that any defects on the aircraft could be detected in future using on-board SHM systems. "The defects could be due to debris on the runway, hailstorm pieces impacting the aircraft, the most common incidents of tool-dropping during maintenance, impact of hard-landing on landing gear and even due to the impact of ground-handling equipment on the aircraft. The SHM systems will be able to give a real-time feed to the pilots," Dr Ramesh said.
Tested on UAV, Hansa: "The current systems being used in aircraft are safe, but our SHM system will help reduce time required for inspections. We have progressed well in the area and have demonstrated the technology on the two-seater Hansa aircraft. In collaboration with Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE), we have demonstrated the SHM system using fiber optic sensors on the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Nishant," Dr Ramesh said. During the technology demonstration of the SHM systems on the boom of UAV, scientists were able to capture the strain pattern on the tail boom -- right from take-off to parachute-deployment, while landing. Using these strain parameters, scientists have developed an algorithm to estimate the loads on the structure.
"Now, we are looking experiments at lab level to understand the extent of damage using the SHM system. We also want to predict the residual life of aircraft structures due to the damages caused over a period of time. Currently we are focusing on developing simulation models to validate the experimental results," the scientist said.
Lesser inspection time: NAL Director Shyam Chetty said that it will take some more time before India could claim its supremacy in developing SHM systems. "What it will eventually do is bring down the inspection time to a few hours. Operators will get huge maintenance advantage as overall health of the aircraft will be readily available. Health of the various onboard electronic systems of the avionics suite is already being checked continuously in flight by what is called C-BIT (Continuous built-in-test)," Shyam said.
On Tejas in future: According to Dr Kota Harinarayana, aerospace legend and mentor, it is essential to have a technology to map the health of the aircraft constantly. "If there is an incipient failure, these systems should be able to detect the same. We hope even the future variants of Tejas too will have SHM systems; that will help us to look at the health of aircraft in totality," Dr Kota said.
A paradigm shift: NAL has been undertaking projects with funding from the Aircraft Research and Development Board (AR&DB), a movement spearheaded by the Defence Research and Development Organisation. Many academic institutions including IITs, Indian Institute of Science are working along with NAL in the area of SHM system research. "World over, similar studies have been undertaken by major aircraft companies on an experimental basis. The day is not too far when SHM-based design will become the mandate for aircraft manufacturing firms. This paradigm shift will probably turn around the current concept of plane-making. Scientists with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) too have made some inroads on this front," Dr Ramesh added.
Copyright@The New Indian Express