Sol–Gel Waveguide-Based Sensor for Structural Health Monitoring on Large Surfaces in Aerospace Domain
The potential of sol–gel-based optical sensors is investigated for applications in the aerospace domain. To this aim, a low-cost and non-intrusive sol–gel sensor based on waveguides, arranged as a 2D matrix structure, is fabricated by UV photolithography for delamination and damage detection. Two different organic–inorganic sol–gels were selected to fabricate the photonic device: TiO2–SiO2 and ZrO2–SiO2, acting as the waveguide core and the cladding, respectively. A systematic study was performed to determine the manufacturing parameters controlling their properties. The results show that large surfaces can be functionalized via sol–gel methods using the direct laser-writing approach. The structures are characterized in terms of refractive index, and the guiding properties were investigated through simulations and experiments, indicating an excellent behavior regarding the light guidance in a straight waveguide or in the 2D matrix structure grid. Additionally, preliminary tests show that the presence of impact can be easily detected after damage through the induced optical losses on large surfaces. This proof of concept sensor is a promising tool for structural health monitoring. To achieve the ultimate goal, the integration of this photonic sensor will be later performed on aircraft wings.