Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Sailing with nerves of glass

03.07.2012
In the world of racing, tiny details can be the difference between victory and defeat. It is no wonder, then, that manufacturers of racing yachts are always on the lookout for new technologies to optimize boats and sails. An ingenious new sensor technology now helps them to extend the boundaries of what is possible.

The constant hunger to break new records has turned boat building into a high-tech business. The racing yachts that compete at international regattas today are sporting machines designed to reach top speeds. The process of optimizing the boats has been ongoing for decades. However, just a short while ago it looked as if a limit had been reached.


To measure the forces acting on the sail, researchers have fi tted it with a web of glass fibers. (© Fraunhofer HHI)

On the fifth leg of the Volvo Ocean Race in spring 2012, from New Zealand to Brazil, only one of the six teams reached its destination without technical problems – all the others were forced to either take a break from the race or give up altogether. The regatta became a war of attrition. And yet these yachts are the best in the world. “These boats are very well constructed,” affirms Ian Walker, skipper of the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team. “I just think we put too much strain on them, and since they are so rigid and so light it’s hard not to believe that they ultimately must break.” So how do you build yachts that are faster than the wind and yet stable enough to withstand the harsh conditions on the high seas?

Back on course with sensor technology
A new sensor system from the Fraunhofer Institute for Telecommunications, Heinrich Hertz Institute HHI can help to detect weak points on time and warn yachtsmen when breaking point has been reached. Prof. Wolfgang Schade and his team in the Project Group for Fiber Optical Sensor Systems in the German town of Goslar have developed “nerves of glass” which can measure the forces that act on hulls, masts, and sails. The technology was actually developed for monitoring wind turbines, where rotor blades and cables are exposed to high loads. “With fiber optic sensors, we can detect delaminations and even cracks at any early stage – long before a part breaks or fails,” explains Schade. “All you need is a fiber optic cable, in which dozens of sensors can be fitted.” The centerpiece of the new technology is “fiber Bragg grating”, microscopic structures that are integrated in the glass fiber at defined intervals and which alter the refractive index. Light racing through the glass fiber is reflected by these lattice points.

The wavelength of the reflected light depends on the distance between the microscopic structures: every stretching or compression of the glass fiber alters the wavelength. To be able to measure the reflectance spectrum quickly and cheaply, the researchers developed a mini-spectrometer, which consists of a chip that splits light into various frequencies. By analyzing the frequency spectrum, experts can draw conclusions about the forces currently acting on the glass fiber.

The idea to use the measurement technology on sailboats came to Schade during a sailing voyage in the fall of 2010. “Sailing is all about making best use of the wind and being as fast as possible. At the same time, you also have to avoid pushing the equipment beyond breaking point. Fiber optic sensors can help to determine the forces acting on hulls, masts, and sails during the journey in real time.” A few months later, Schade was able to demonstrate that the sensors were up to the task of advancing the sport of sailing. At the Düsseldorf boat fair he met Jens Nickel, who runs a sail workshop in Stade in northern Germany. In collaboration with the sailcloth manufacturer Dimension-Polyant, a web of glass fibers containing 45 measuring points was fitted to a mainsail and a genoa in Nickel’s workshop.

Measurements were then conducted on the sails on a test journey. “It turned out that the tension in the head, right at the top of the sail, was greater than assumed,” says Nickel. “However, the strain on the clew, the lower aft corner of a sail, and on the entire leech area, the aft edge of a sail, was smaller than had been thought.” Nickel’s sail workshop used the data right away to optimize their working processes. The sailmaker started reinforcing the areas that were subject to greater stress and using lighter material in the areas that were less stressed.

Schade and his team’s next objective is to adapt the measurement technology so it is fit for use in competitive racing. “We have now fitted sail battens with fiber optic sensors, which will help competitors in future to find the optimal trim, i.e. the sail position at which the boat travels the fastest under specific wind and wave conditions,” explains Schade. For the first time, the fiber optic sensors and the connected measuring equipment – which is no bigger than a cigarette packet and contains an LED light source, spectrometer, and electronics – are supplying reproducible values.

This data tells the crew in which areas there is too much or too little pressure, or how stresses shift to different areas, for example when the sheets are pulled in tighter. The results provided by the sensor technology will be accessible everywhere on board at all times – Schade’s team has already developed an app that allows crew members to access real time data from their smart phones. The new measuring system will be launched shortly under the name NextSailSystem.

Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Schade | Fraunhofer-Institute
Further information:
http://www.fraunhofer.de/en/press/research-news/2012/july/sailing-with-nerves-of-glass.html

More articles from Materials Sciences:

nachricht New gel-like coating beefs up the performance of lithium-sulfur batteries
22.03.2017 | Yale University

nachricht Pulverizing electronic waste is green, clean -- and cold
22.03.2017 | Rice University

All articles from Materials Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Giant Magnetic Fields in the Universe

Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.

The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...

Im Focus: Tracing down linear ubiquitination

Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.

Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...

Im Focus: Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...

Im Focus: Polymer-coated silicon nanosheets as alternative to graphene: A perfect team for nanoelectronics

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...

Im Focus: Researchers Imitate Molecular Crowding in Cells

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Land Use Symposium ILUS 2017: Call for Abstracts and Registration open

20.03.2017 | Event News

CONNECT 2017: International congress on connective tissue

14.03.2017 | Event News

ICTM Conference: Turbine Construction between Big Data and Additive Manufacturing

07.03.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Pulverizing electronic waste is green, clean -- and cold

22.03.2017 | Materials Sciences

Astronomers hazard a ride in a 'drifting carousel' to understand pulsating stars

22.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

New gel-like coating beefs up the performance of lithium-sulfur batteries

22.03.2017 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>