Polyetherimide-Reinforced Smart Inlays for Bondline Surveillance in Composites

Polymers (Basel). 2022 Sep 13;14(18):3816. doi: 10.3390/polym14183816.


An integrable sensor inlay for monitoring crack initiation and growth inside bondlines of structural carbon fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP) components is presented. The sensing structures are sandwiched between crack-stopping poly(vinyliden fluoride) (PVDF) and a thin reinforcing polyetherimide (PEI) layer. Good adhesion at all interfaces of the sensor system and to the CFRP material is crucial, as weak bonds can counteract the desired crack-stopping functionality. At the same time, the chosen reinforcing layer must withstand high strains, safely support the metallic measuring grids, and possess outstanding fatigue strength. We show that this robust sensor system, which measures the strain at two successive fronts inside the bondline, allows to recognize cracks in the proximity of the inlay regardless of the mechanical loads. Feasibility is demonstrated by static load tests as well as cyclic long-term fatigue testing for up to 1,000,000 cycles. In addition to pure crack detection, crack distance estimation based on sensor signals is illustrated. The inlay integration process is developed with respect to industrial applicability. Thus, implementation of the proposed system will allow the potential of lightweight CFRP constructions to be better exploited by expanding the possibilities of structural adhesive bonding.

Keywords: composite structures; foil sensors; function conformity; multifunctional bondline; sensor integration; structural bonding; structural health monitoring; thin-film sensors.