Fatigue and fracture are among the most critical forms of damage in metal structures. Fatigue damage can initiate from microscopic defects (e.g., surface scratches, voids in welds, and internal defects) and initiate a crack. Under cyclic loading, these cracks can grow and reach a critical level to trigger fracture of the member which leads to compromised structural integrity and, in some cases, catastrophic failure of the entire structure. In our research, we are investigating a solution using carbon nanotube-based sensing composites, which have the potential to simultaneously rehabilitate and monitor fatigue-cracked structural members. These composites consist of a fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) layer and a carbon nanotube-based sensing layer, which are integrated to form a novel structural self-sensing material. The sensing layer is composed of a non-woven aramid fabric that is coated with carbon nanotubes (CNT) to form an electrically conductive network that is extremely sensitive to detecting deformation as well as damage accumulation via changes in the resistance of the CNT network. In this paper, we introduce the sensing concept, describe the manufacturing of a model sensing prototype, and discuss a set of small-scale laboratory experiments to examine the load-carrying capacity and damage sensing response.

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