TWI Finds a Way to Transfer Data Wirelessly Through Composites

TWI has revealed details of a materials technology it is calling SurFlow, which will be able to offer secure data transfer through composites.

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.

By turning a composite part into a ‘smart’ composite, the technology integrates a data network into a component’s physical structure. The system is capable of transmitting data at up to 6Gbps and can continue to function even if the composite part suffers damage.

Potential applications for smart composites exist throughout industry. In the automotive 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.

SurFlow works using surface waves: electromagnetic energy that travels along a material. By incorporating a substrate made up of 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.

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.