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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/J016942/1
Title: S^3 Disease Surveillance for Structures and Systems
Principal Investigator: Worden, Professor K
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Los Alamos National Laboratory Messier-Dowty Ltd
Department: Mechanical Engineering
Organisation: University of Sheffield
Scheme: EPSRC Fellowship
Starts: 31 March 2013 Ends: 30 March 2018 Value (£): 891,165
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Materials testing & eng.
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Aerospace, Defence and Marine
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
31 Jul 2012 Engineering Prioritisation Meeting - 31 July Announced
09 Oct 2012 Programme Grant & Fellowships Interviews - 9 & 10 October 2012 (Eng) Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
One of the main contributors towards the cost of high-value engineering assets is the cost of maintenance. Taking an aircraft out of service for inspection means loss of revenue. However, the alternative - allowing damage to remove the aircraft from service - is much more undesirable with cost and safety being issues. In terms of an offshore wind farm, the cost of an unscheduled visit to a remote site to potentially replace a 75m blade hardly bears thinking about. If one can adopt a condition-based approach to maintenance where the structure of interest is monitored constantly by permanent sensors and data processing algorithms alert the owner or user when damage is developing, one can optimise the maintenance program for cost without sacrificing safety. If incipient damage is detected, repair rather than replacement can be a viable option.

Unfortunately, the complexity of modern structures together with the challenging environments in which they operate makes it very difficult to develop data-processing algorithms which can detect and identify incipient damage. The discipline concerned with these problems - structural health monitoring (SHM) - suffers from serious problems which have prevented uptake of the technology by industry. The structural complexity makes analysis difficult; however, one variant of SHM - the data-based approach - shows promise in this respect. In this case one learns directly from data from the structure using pattern recognition techniques to diagnose different levels of damage. Sadly, data-based SHM has its own problems; the first is that most pattern recognition approaches to SHM require one to measure data from the structure in all possible states of damage. In the case of a structure like an aircraft - consider the A380 - it is simply not conceivable that one should damage a single one for data collection purposes, let alone many. Fortunately, if one is only interested simply in whether damage is present or not, this can be accomplished using only data from the healthy condition. One builds a picture of the healthy state of the structure and then monitors for deviations from this state. This raises the second major issue with data-based SHM; if one is monitoring the structure for changes, one does not wish to raise an alarm because of a benign change in its environmental or operational conditions; these are termed 'confounding influences'.

The solution may lie within the healthcare informatics community. A field called 'syndromic surveillance' (SS) has arisen over the last 20 years concerned with fast detection of disease outbreaks by monitoring human populations. The data themselves can be very different, from over-the-counter medicine sales to numbers of hits on health advice websites. The data are fused together and analysed to give a spatio-temporal picture of public health and alerting algorithms similar to the ones used for SHM can be used to warn healthcare professionals that an epidemic may be on the way. The ideas have even been embedded in software, the prime example being the ESSENCE II system which keeps a watchful eye over three US states.

The current proposal aims to develop a SS system for engineering structures with the capability of fast detection and location for faults on high-value assets. The population-based approach to SHM proposed here has the potential to solve the two problems discussed above. If many structures are monitored, inferences between structures can potentially avoid the need for very detailed knowledge of individual structures. As structures fail with time, the knowledge of damage states will build. In terms of the second problem, SS systems have always dealt with confounding influences and can provide inspiration for new algorithms for data-based SHM. As in the case of ESSENCE II; the system will be embedded in software so that multiple operators of structures can derive maximum benefit from the diagnostic capability of the population-based system.
Key Findings
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Potential use in non-academic contexts
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Organisation Website: http://www.shef.ac.uk