Researchers at the Birck Nanotechnology Center in Purdue’s Discovery Park and at the Sadeghi mechanical engineering laboratory have developed tiny wireless sensors resilient enough to survive the harsh conditions inside jet engines.
The sensors, which are able to detect when critical bearings are close to failing, are an example of an emerging technology known as micro electromechanical systems.
MEMS are machines that combine electronic and mechanical components on a microscopic scale. Purdue’s researchers have been working closely with the U.S. Air Force.
“MEMS technology is critical because it needs to be small enough that it doesn’t interfere with the performance of the bearing itself,” said Farshid Sadeghi, a professor of mechanical engineering. “It also needs to be able to withstand extreme heat.”
Engine bearings must function at temperatures of approximately 300+ degrees C. Current sensor technology can withstand temperatures of up to about 210 degrees.
Research has shown the new sensors can detect impending temperature-induced bearing failure significantly earlier than conventional sensors. “Data from the onboard devices will not only indicate whether a bearing is about to fail but also how long it is likely to last before it fails,” said Dimitrios Peroulis, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering.
Sensors could be in use in a few years in military aircraft but are also applicable to civilian aircraft and cars.