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Functional fiber-optic sensors embedded in stainless steel components using ultrasonic additive manufacturing for distributed...

by Holden C Hyer, Daniel C Sweeney, Christian M Petrie
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Additive Manufacturing
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The nuclear industry is progressing toward microreactors that can be factory assembled and deployed to remote regions for reliable, scalable power generation. However, the reduced power output requires enhanced monitoring capabilities to reduce staffing and eventually move toward autonomous control to improve the economics of microreactors. The ability to embed sensors such as fiber-optics, which can provide spatially distributed temperature and strain measurements, within microreactor components for real-time health monitoring would be particularly advantageous. Recent advances in ultrasonic additive manufacturing (UAM) have demonstrated the successful embedding of fiber-optics in soft materials such as Al and Cu by placing the sensors in machined cavities and ultrasonically welding over the top with thin foils. This work reports the first successful embedment of fiber-optic sensors and thermocouples within a common nuclear reactor material, SS304, via UAM. UAM parameters were first explored with simple plate geometries before moving to more complex geometries, such as pipes and other test articles for heat pipe–based microreactors. Select samples were sectioned for microscopy to evaluate the sensor/foil and foil/foil interfaces from samples fabricated by using 100% SS304 foils vs. foils plated with a Ni coating to improve UAM bonding. Furthermore, embedding metal-coated, low-bend loss fibers resulted in greatly reduced signal attenuation and adequate compressive residual strain in the embedded region to ensure successful strain coupling. Pipe specimen functional testing was performed by monitoring temperature and strain during transient and steady-state thermal testing.