Structural Safety Enhanced by Smart Spray Paint

(Daily Tech 1-31-2012) The smart paint is cheaper, less time-consuming and more accurate than current methods of monitoring. A researcher in Scotland has created a spray paint that is capable of identifying tiny faults in structures like bridges and turbines long before damage occurs.

Dr. Mohamed Saafi, study leader from the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, is the creator of the smart paint, which is both strong and environmentally-friendly.

Currently, large structures use costly instruments to determine the location of microscopic fractures. The technology is also limited to only looking as specific areas of the structure at different times.

But now, Saafi is changing that with his new smart paint. The paint consists of fly ash and carbon nanotubes, which create a cement-like material when mixed. This makes the paint durable in any environment. Also, fly ash is a recycled product, making the paint a "green" effort.

The paint utilizes a wireless sensor network, where wireless communication nodes are capable of harvesting energy, detecting microscopic cracks and sending out warnings in the foundation of structures like wind turbines. Saafi said he's specifically focused on using this new paint on wind turbines because they are currently supervised through "visual inspections."

In addition to having a more accurate warning system, the paint is also cheaper than current methods, costing only a "fraction" of what is currently paid to supervise these structures.

"The development of this smart paint technology could have far-reaching implications for the way we monitor the safety of large structures all over the world," said Saafi. "There are no limitations as to where it could be used and the low-cost nature gives it a significant advantage over the current options available in the industry. The process of producing and applying the paint also gives it an advantage as no expertise is required and monitoring itself is straightforward."

Saafi has already created a prototype and tested it on certain structures, proving its effectiveness.