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In March, the Hon Karen Andrews announced $21 million in funding for the ANFF-supported SmartCrete CRC, which aims to reduce the cost of concrete and improve productivity of one of the most heavily used building materials in the world.

SmartCrete plans to guarantee the long-term viability of concrete infrastructure in Australia by pursuing three major program initiatives – providing new engineering solutions, improving the sustainability and environmental attributes of cement structures, and by creating technologies that allow better management of concrete assets.

The CRC will be particularly relying on ANFF equipment and expertise to assist the development of sensing components that can be built into concrete structures, such as sewers. The improved information that is provided by these sensors will mean that fewer people have to enter dangerous environments, and ensure long-term accurate monitoring of a structure’s integrity.

The Macquarie University team behind this prong of research are already working on a variety of optical fibre-based sensors, one of which monitors corrosion damage to the walls of a concrete sewer by feeding out information about the temperature and humidity in the sewer headspace. These sensors are produced in commercially available optical fibres using ANFF OptoFab’s laser machining and inscription suite.

OptoFab can manufacture a full line of passive optical fibre sensors for various monitoring applications. The sensors are based on mature Fibre Bragg Grating (FBG) technology in which FBGs are used as direct sensing elements calibrated to a shift in their reflection / transmission spectra. A FBG itself is a periodic array of micron-sized perturbations written into the fibre’s core using a femtosecond laser. Variations to the periodicity of these structures by an external source, for example temperature or strain, can be detected as a change in wavelength or intensity.

Devices of this type have already been installed at a number of Sydney Water wastewater treatment plants and have shown a lifetime exceeding 14 months, outperforming conventional electrical sensors which only survive a number of days in these harsh environments.

Dr Martin Ams, a research fellow and member of the corrosion sensor team, said: “SmartCrete CRC will provide an avenue for increased uptake of such sensors, especially into the concrete sector, with asset management being the forefront research program to capitalise on their advantages.”

‚ÄúWith funding secured, we now plan to drive down the cost of the sensor interrogation system and roll out sensing installations not only throughout Australia’s concrete wastewater network but also across other concrete-based industries.‚Äù

For further information contact Dr Martin Ams: