TWI’s name derives from the early roots of the organisation when it was more narrowly-focussed: the body called The Welding Institute is now a professional institution within TWI. TWI is a research and technology organisation with expertise in solving problems in all aspects of manufacturing, fabrication and whole-life integrity management technologies.
Researchers at TWI have conceived a data transfer technology that can be seamlessly incorporated into composite materials to create a high-capacity, resilient data transfer network. The approach is to form what amounts to waveguide within a Composite structure, although TWI’s intial description does not disclose the mode of propagation employed.
The organisation’s statement says, “Through a patented process, SurFlow transmits data in the form of electromagnetic waves that travel through composite parts. The system uses no wires or fibre optics and, unlike wireless data transfer, cannot be intercepted remotely. SurFlow works using surface waves: electromagnetic energy that travels along a material. By incorporating a substrate combining dielectric and conductive materials, these surface waves can be transmitted through composite structures. The waves are propagated and received using transducers which can be placed anywhere along the smart composite.”
The technology, TWI continues, is capable of integrating a data network into a component’s physical structure. The system is capable of transmitting data at up to 6 Gbps and can continue to function even if the composite part suffers damage.
Potential applications for smart composites exist throughout industry. In the automobile sector, where use of composites such as carbon fibre is now extending beyond high-end applications, the technology could significantly reduce the complexity of a vehicle’s internal communications network.
In robotics, the technology could be used to enable communication throughout a robotic system without the use of wires. And in consumer electronics, the technology would allow a device to instantly connect to a network simply by making contact with the composite’s surface, with no need to plug anything in or detect and connect to a wireless network.
Further testing is underway to investigate the innovation’s potential. Other uses being explored include advanced aerospace applications and real-time composite monitoring, whereby subtle changes in the waveform allow any damage to a smart composite component to be identified immediately. TWI’s Defence Programme Manager Paul Burling notes that the organisation is keen to explore the commercial potential of this invention and is seeking possible applications.