Researchers at the University of Adelaide are working on a new technology which can ‘talk’ to large structures about their health and wellbeing. 

University teams are using a system of transducers to send and receive signals in the form of waves passed through a structure. Similar to sonar or ripples on water, defects and damages are revealed in the data received back. The technology could improve public safety while significantly reducing the cost of maintenance and repair.

"It will allow us to talk to the structure to see whether there are any defects, where they are and, ultimately, provide detail about the shape of any damage and how extensive it is - just like someone going to the doctor for a health check," says researcher Dr Alex Ng, lecturer in the School of Civil, Environmental and Mining Engineering.

Dr Ng says the technique is designed for use on structures made from fibre-composite laminates, but can be extended to more traditional material as well.

“Being a laminated material, it is difficult to accurately determine whether the internal layers are damaged without undertaking destructive testing. Developing cost-effective, non-destructive techniques will be of great value to these industries and for public safety,” the Professor says.

The transducers can either be embedded into the structure when it's built or bonded to a surface afterwards. The data is collected and transferred to a control centre where it can be monitored online, around the clock, to ensure structural integrity at all times.

Dr Ng received an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Early Career Researcher Award for this three-year project, which started this year.