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2011 IEEE Symposium on Business, Engineering and Industrial Applications (ISBEIA), Langkawi, Malaysia

A REVIEW PAPER ON FIBER-OPTIC


SENSORS AND APPLICATION OF PDMS
MATERIALS FOR ENHANCED
PERFORMANCE
Othman Sidek and Muhammad Hassan Bin Afzal
Collaborative-electronic Design Excellence Centre, Universiti Sains Malaysia, 14300 Nibong Tebal, P. Pinang, Malaysia.

ABSTRACT -Fiber optic sensing technology is one of the fastest


growing technologies in the modern day science. Optical fiber
sensors draw more and more interests of researchers and
application engineers for its exclusive and very valuable
characteristics. It is mainly used to sense the physical and
chemical properties such as micro-bending, strains, vibrations,
accelerations, linear and rotary position, temperatures,
pressures, determination of pH, refractive index of liquid
solution, pipeline condition monitoring etc. furthermore, fiber
optic sensors have a variety of special benefits for example faster
response, low-cost fabrication, very light weight, highly sensitive
plus non-reactive to electromagnetic interference. Fiber optic
sensors can also be classified under various types based on
sensing methods and applications. These distinctive and valuable
application features facilitate an extensive range of industries
such as biomedical, aerospace, structural health monitoring,
transportation, oil-pipe condition etc. This paper discusses about
the basic working principle of fiber optic sensing technology,
various types of fiber optic sensors and their applications and
future scope of fiber optic sensors. This paper also discusses
about PDMS materials as the coating for fiber optic sensors for
improved and enhanced performance.
Keywords-Fiber Optic Sensing technology, practical
applications of FOS, application of FOS in SHM, PDMS material,
compatibility of PDMS and fiber optic sensors

I.

of special benefits for example faster response, low-cost


fabrication, very compact and robust design, very light weight
and highly sensitive. That is why fiber optic sensors are
widely popular and very functional as a sensing device for a
variety of physical and chemical applications such as flow,
temperature, strain, biomedical, electrical and magnetic,
rotation, vibration, displacement, pressure etc. The following
sections of this paper will discuss about the working principle
of Fiber optic sensing technology, classifications, importance
of water quality management. It also discusses about practical
applications of FOS with specific PDMS coating which will
result improved and enhanced performance and extended
durability.
II.

In case of fiber optic sensing system, the reaction and


response to external circumstances and influences has been
intentionally increased to sense resulting change more
accurately for a precise measurement. Fiber acts as a
modulator in the fiber sensing system and it also acts as a
transducer and converts the measurement data for example
temperature, stress, strain, rotation, electric and magnetic
currents into a corresponding change in the optical radiation.
Because polarization, frequency, phase and intensity are the
characteristics of light and any of these parameters can be
altered. So the effectiveness of a fiber optic sensor is
depending on the scale of this alteration and the ability of the
user of fast detection and precise measurements [1]. Basically
the structure of fiber optics is divided into three components
such as the core usually made of glass or plastic, cladding
material that is surrounded around the core and finally the
coating or buffer to protect the optical fiber from physical
damage [2, 3]. Figure-1 shows the different parts of an optical
fiber cable [4].

INTRODUCTION

Over the last few decades, the technology of fiber optics


and its practical applications emerged speedily and made a
huge progress by having a positive impact on world-wide
communication technologies. They have some distinctive and
very useful advantages such as low-cost, incredible capacity of
carrying accurate information from one place to another and
total invulnerability from many relevant interferences. Fiber
optic sensor (FOS) is one of the most authoritative and
versatile type of sensors that brought so many significant
benefits to various measurement systems and technologies
similar to the fiber optic technology brought to the modern
telecommunication systems. These fiber optic sensors have
some unique and really impressive characteristics that
distinguish them from other kind of sensors. Fiber optic
sensors have a very high bandwidth, immunity to
electromagnetic interferences and a strong capability of
functioning under difficult environments of temperature, toxic
and pressure. Furthermore, fiber optic sensors have a variety

978-1-4577-1549-5/11/$26.00 2011 IEEE

HOW IT WORKS

.
Figure 1: Different components of an optical fiber.

458

In general, in case of fiber optics sensing system, a fiber


optic cable is connected with an isolated sensor or amplifier.
So the different components of a fiber optic sensor are optical
fiber, sensing part and the signal detection method. Figure-2
illustrates the main working procedure of a fiber optic sensor
in simpler terms.

circumstances [1, 4].In general, all types of FOS fall under


two groups such as extrinsic type or intrinsic type. The sensing
position is the most important role while grouping any type of
FOS. If the sensing process happens outside the fiber, then it is
extrinsic type. On the other side, if the sensing process takes
place inside fiber, then it is intrinsic type or also known as
All-Fiber. One of the most important and very influential
subclass of all-fiber sensor is interferometric sensor and many
powerful and highly competent sensors fall into this category.
It is evident that, almost any kind of environmental
consequence can be detected and then converted into an
optical signal to be interpreted suitably for appropriate
application. In general, each environmental outcome can be
determined by a variety of fiber optic sensors. Here, the main
concern and target is to select the most suitable fiber optic
sensor that exclusively can sense and measure the desired
environmental aftermath in a most effective and accurate way.
III. RECENT DEVELOPMENTS OF FOS BASED
APPLICATIONS
The fiber optic sensing technology and applications in
various fields has been improving so swiftly in recent years
and continuously having positive impacts in latest science and
technology advancements. Some of the remarkable outcome in
this technology has been recognized in areas including
underwater acoustic sensing, strain monitoring, rotation
sensing (gyroscope), chemical/biomedical sensors, pH
sensors, Optical fiber nanotaper sensors, Two-dimension fiber
optic sensor for high-resolution and long-range linear
measurements, temperature sensing etc. Optical fiber sensors
have managed to attract substantial attention because of
number of distinctive benefits such as light-weight, very
compact and small in design, easier multiplexability and most
of all it is unaffected by Electro-Magnetic Interference (EMI).
Above all, these sensors does not require external electrical
power source at the exact sensing location and in most of the
cases have the potential to be manufactured at relatively low
cost [9, 10]. Suozhu Wu et Al. [11], successfully designed and
developed a mode-filtered light fiber optic pH sensor to detect
and determine the pH level in an effective way. Cresol red (pH
detection level 9.0-13.0) and Bromocresol green (pH detection
level 2.0-8.0) had been used as the pH indicator in this sensing
technology system. Though this particular merged pH sensor
is very effective and practically unaffected to most of the
cations but some probable candidates were K+ and Pb2+.
Bromocol green pH indicator faced some trouble regarding
these potential interferents [11].Though the pH sensor,
particularly the Bromocol green pH indicator is overly
sensitive at some cations (K+ and Pb2+). But, it actually
covered the range of 2.0-8.0 and 9.0-13.0 and sensed the
sample properly and also exhibits no irregularity. The authors
also proposed some custom made pH indicators which
theoretically performs at a better speed, and shows more
accurate measurements. Suozhu Wu et Al. [12], successfully
designed, manufactured and built up a chemo-sensor based on
mode-filtered light technology (MFLD) to detect the presence
of methane (CH4) gas in ambient circumstances. In this case,

Figure 2: A basic working principle of a general fiber optic sensor.

There are various types of fiber optics sensors for different


types of applications. So we can divide these fiber optics
sensors based on three classes such as the sensing position, the
main working procedure and the application. Depending on
the sensing position, there are two types of fiber optics sensors
such as extrinsic fiber optic sensor and intrinsic fiber optic
sensor. In case of extrinsic fiber optic sensors, the sensing
process happens in the area outside of the fiber cable and this
fiber cable acts as a medium for the back and forth
transmission of input Optical source (Laser, LED, Laser diode
etc) to the sensing position competently and also in a required
form. In contrast, one or more physical properties
(polarization, phase, intensity, frequency) of the fiber of the
intrinsic fiber optic sensor undergo a change and in result the
fiber changes the characteristics of optical source inside the
fiber [1, 4, 5, 6].
Fiber optic sensors can also be categorized based on their
various types of applications. Physical FOS is generally used
to measure different types of physical properties such as
temperature, stress etc. Chemical FOS is generally used to
determine the chemical properties for example pH
measurement, gas analysis, spectroscopic studies etc. Whereas
biomedical FOS is generally used in different types medical
applications such as determining the blood-flow, glucose
content etc. There are different types of fiber optic sensors
based on the basic working principle of the main fiber optic
sensing system such as the intensity, phase, polarization and
frequency. All these parameters can alter their values and
properties due to different circumstances. So by detecting the
alteration, we can actually measure the change in

459

the basic sensor is consisted with a custom-built fiber optic


cable covered with a thin silicone cladding of cryptophane A
into a fused-silica capillary. This sensor certainly holds some
very distinctive and useful features such as lower level of
detection, lower baseline intensity, very sharp and active
sensitivity and completes flexibility for choosing detection
points. There was very little almost negligible interference
from oxygen, hydrogen and carbon dioxide on detection but
interferences from dichloromethane and carbon tetrachloride
were found during the experiment [12]. All in all, this is a very
promising, extremely useful and exhibits tremendous potential
in detecting the presence methane gas in surroundings. With
further research and other claddings are being appropriately
integrated by right host compounds, this specific sensing
technology can also be applied to detect the presence of other
neutral gases.

the second method (13.03 mm). But, it was narrowed by the


size of the silicon grating (14 mm x 14 mm).
D. Sastikumar et al. [15], successfully illustrated and
designed and a specific type of displacement fiber optic sensor
to sense and determine the thickness of a transparent plate
with a limited range between 1-2.5 mm. According to the
change of the thickness of the transparent plate, the individual
characteristics of this sensor are also varied. So this varying
behavior of the sensor is being determined, analyzed and
assessed in terms of numerical aperture and diameter of the
fiber. A method based on FOS has been proposed,
experimented and confirmed with experimental results in this
paper.FOS offers so many advantages over the traditional
methods such as flexibility, compatibility, low-cost and
miniaturization. A basic and simple reflective fiber optic
displacement sensor and its working principle is being
illustrated and experimented for measuring the thickness of
the transparent plate [16]. The resultant behavior shown by
this displacement FOS is caused by the changes in the radius
of cross section of the reflected light cone in the company of
the displacement of the surface. But in this proposed study, a
transparent glass plate was used as the surface [17]. A.
Apelsmeier et al. [18] successfully described demonstrated
and measured temperature by using a unique extrinsic FOS
with the help of intensity referencing. Usually, in case of
intensity measurement by using FOS, it frequently needs some
kind of intensity referencing to avoid errors from parasitic
losses. There are some acknowledged methods of intensity
referencing for example balanced bridge, divided beam system
and two wavelength referencing. But these methods are very
pricey and really not suitable for low-cost applications as
because they apply some intricate optical components for
instance multiple LED sources, couplers and filters. So to
overcome these problems, this specific sensor applies a novel
method of referencing in an extrinsic FOS technique
employing the temperature dependence of absorption edge in a
semiconductor. In this specific procedure, the total
performance of a fiber optic sensing technology based
intensity referencing has been sensed, measured, investigated
and evaluated and it is also found that the losses in connectors
may be compensated for. So the connector losses are also as
big as 4dB also proved in this experiment. Also all the
findings and results have been verified on a surface of a
typical running 50 KVA transformer through infrared camera.
All the results are consistent and no interference with
electromagnetic fields has been found in this method.

S. Caron et al. [13], successfully modelled, designed and


used a special kind fiber optic sensor to determine the
migration rates of all compounds in a mixture separated by gas
chromatography. In this case, the custom-made FOS is
specially equipped with a coated capillary optical fiber (a
special kind of waveguide) as the column in the system.
Fundamentally, this FOS is capable of sensing and identifying
the different compounds of a concentration but it cannot
determine their concentration. Furthermore, the opto-fluidic
setup in this specific experiment cannot withstand a higher
temperature, which is why it has been done at 29 o C. Also,
acceleration of gas decreases the amplitude of a velocity peak
and widens the width of it. But it also has been suggested in
this paper that, this situation can be avoided by improving the
resolution of optical sensor. A noteworthy advantage of this
FOS over a normal Gas Chromatography Detector (GC
Detector) is that, the time this specific FOS takes to sense one
peak does not depend on the column length. All in all, this
sensor has the great capability of sensing and observing the
different compounds very promptly before they leave the
column and also can predict their retention times properly. So
this benefit can be used as a real-time modification of GC
parameters particularly in longer columns where the analytes
have extended retention times. A. Khiat et al. [14], designed
and developed a special type of fiber optic sensor to sense and
determine the two-dimension linear displacement. This sensor
can determine resolution in nanometre scale and range in
millimetre scale. After the sensor principle is being tested and
applied in one specific direction, then the displacement
process for two-dimensions are also explained, experimented
and also the resultant measurements are sensed by the use of
this FOS and high precision actuators. There is also a limit in
this FOS measurement technology. In the case of resolution,
the best and the worst displacement case is being sensed at
27.4 nm and 38.7 nm and for the range it is 8.67 mm and
13.03 mm, correspondingly. The prime benefit of this highresolution FOS is the capability of sensing the long-range
linear displacements in a plane. By using this specific
method, there are some useful advantages such as better limit
of resolution (27.4nm) and higher speed, respectively.
Furthermore, the longest measurement was reached by using

H.M.R. Goncalves et al. [19], successfully described,


designed and tested a specific type of fiber optic sensor to
determine the presence of Hg (II) in an aqueous solution. The
working principle of this FOS is basically based on the famous
concept of sol-gel technique immobilized carbon dots
nanoparticles functionalized with PEG200 and N-acetyl-Lcysteine. A particular type of thin, homogenous and very flat
film is being produced by this specific type of sol-gel method.
Now, carbon dots in that aqueous solution are being
immobilized by that film and it also permitted the reversible

460

sensing of Hg(II) in that solution. This unique type of FOS can


detect the existence of submicron molar concentrations of Hg
(II) in aqueous solution. This is the basic working procedure
of this unique and very helpful sensing technology. So far so
many studies and experiments have been carried out to
discover the all possible applications and functionalities of
carbon dots in various fields [20, 21, 22]. There are different
types of immobilization process that can be applied on the
fiber optics such as including adsorption to solid supports,
covalent attachment and entrapment in polymers, but the most
prominent and handy process is the sol-gel technique. This
process has the unique characteristics of the porous nature of
the solgel network and also entrapped species remains
available and can interrelate with outside chemical species or
analytes. FOS based on sol-gel techniques also has some
disadvantages, but these problems can be overcome by using a
sol-gel derived matrix according to the FOS under experiment
[19, 21, 23, 24, 25]. Probably the lower concentration of Hg
(II) can be obtained by this FOS if the sensitivity of the
sensing process is much higher with the help of more powerful
light source and sensible detectors. The prime advantages of
carbon dot nanoparticles are being non-toxic and totally
biocompatible. On the other hand, the fiber optics is
exceedingly flexible diagnostic tool. Thats why, this is a very
useful and effective FOS and it has a tremendous potential
with the help of proper research and improvements.

fiber optic sensing technology is already being integrated in


handheld devices for more convenience and to create wide
range of feasibility [34].
IV. APPLICATION OF PDMS MATERIAL IN FOS
TECHNOLOGY FOR ENHANCED
PERFORMANCE
Polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) is a very interesting and
exceptional type of silicone elastomer or silicone rubber which
contains very useful properties as a base material for various
sensing applications. It has a unique ability of cross-linking
without any sort of difficulty makes it one of the primary
choices for numerous micro- and nano- cast applications as a
base material or coating material. Moreover, PDMS materials
have excellent dielectric properties and do not fluctuate much
with the variation of temperature. Table-1 shows the detailed
changes in properties according to temperature change [35].
TABLE I.
Property

J. Ou et al. [26], successfully developed, experimented and


presented the fiber optic sensor to sense and measure the
presence of hydrogen (H2) gas. Here, this particular FOS was
coated with nano-platelet tungsten trioxide (WO3) films and
catalytic palladium (Pd) layers and is being used and tested to
assess the hydrogen gas sensing performance. Hydrogen gas is
one of the most important and powerful participant in
resolving the future energy problems. Nonetheless, hydrogen
concentration has some unique characteristics such as low
ignition energy and wide exploration concentration and that is
why it is a very essential task to observe and monitor H2
concentration carefully [27]. There are several types of H2
sensors such as layered SAW gas sensor [28], Nanoporous
TiO2 thin film based conductometric H2 sensor [29] and
various optical devices [30,31,32]. Tungsten Trioxide (WO3)
is one of the famous substances usually used as the hydrogen
optical sensing component. This specific material has first-rate
gasochromic property which is very suitable for sensing the H2
gas [33]. It is illustrated from this specific research that, the W
grains with average sizes of 20-80 nm were transformed into
tungstite (WO3. 2H2O) after came in to contact with the acid
treatment. These W grains became tungstite platelets of 3-4
m in dimensions and 20-80 nm in thickness. On the whole,
this optical fiber hydrogen sensor is very sensitive, speedy,
stable and also reliable. So this FOS shows a great deal of
potentials for hydrogen sensing in relative low cost.

DIELECTRIC PROPERTIES
Temperature
25C(77F)

100C(212F)

200C(392F)

Dielectric Constant

2.8

2.5

2.3

Loss Factor

1.2E-04

1.2E-04

1.5E-04

Specific Resistance
(Ohm-cm)

4.E+15

6.E+14

1.E+14

Dielectric Strength

120

100

95

It is clearly depicted in Table-1 that dielectric constant, loss


factor, specific resistance, and dielectric strength of PDMS
materials does not alter that much along with temperature
change. The basic performance properties of PDMS materials
are listed in table-2 [35].
TABLE II.

PERFORMANCE PROPERTIES

Characteristics

Value / Appearance

Color

Water White

Chemical Stability

High

Electrical Conductivity

Nil (Insulating)

Surface Tension

21 dynes/cm

Refractive Index

~1.4

Water Solubility

Essentially nil

Viscosity Range

0.65 to 20,000,000 cs

Growth in Micro-Organisms

~Nil

Currently PDMS materials become one of the primary choices


because of its really unique and useful characteristics such as
flexibility, elasticity, transparency, biocompatibility and easier
manufacturing procedure. Unique properties of PDMS
materials such as very high flexibility and elasticity are
capable of providing large deformation in creating various
kinds of functional structures for various purposes. In
contrast, PDMS material also has certain limitations. Because
of its unique porous structure, PDMS possesses high
permeability. Thats why in case of certain devices it
specifically requires high sealing such as it would be very hard

There several famous companies which are producing


different types FOS for different type applications. These
products are very compact, well built, easier to handle and
also provide accurate sensing and results. In most cases, this

461

to keep the pneumatic pressure in a device [36, 48]. In case of


fiber optic sensing technology, PDMS can be used as a coating
material to enhance the sensing and measurement performance
[3743]. By applying FBG sensors, the environmental
perturbations on the FBG sensors, such as strain, temperature,
and pressure, can be straightforwardly calculated by
monitoring the degree of the Bragg wavelength shift induced
by the amount of the FBG bend. Nonetheless, for chemical
sensing purpose, ordinary FBGs are not entirely suitable for
practical applications because optical fibers do not respond to
chemical solutions. Furthermore, traditional FBGs are
intrinsically not sensitive to a surrounding-medium refractive
index (SRI) variation because optical fields are well-bound
within a fiber core and a light coupling with the SRI is
screened by a thick cladding layer. So to overcome these
problems, long-period fiber gratings (LPFGs) are generally
used for chemical sensing applications, where the light
couplings between the core and the cladding modes are
present, associated an optical interaction linking the cladding
and an external medium [34,4247]. Figure-3 represents the
basic installation and working procedure of PDMS material in
FOS based FBG sensor.

further progresses to achieve more efficiency, mobility and


wider range of usability. For instance, it is required to make it
as mobile as possible to ease the operating procedure for
general users in remote areas. Also it will be much more user
friendly, if the all the measurement results can be transmitted
to a remote laptop or desktop computer using some sort of
wireless connection. In this way, the user does not require to
stand beside specific location all the time to get a set of values
to compare the different parameters for a specific length of
time. It is much more convenient and user-friendly. Moreover,
PDMS material is a very effective coating material for FOS
technology can be a better solution for enhanced sensing
performance and also able to provide better accuracy of
acquired data. This will help immensely help the users to
know and assess about the specific conditions and also take
effective steps to improve the overall conditions. One of the
major problems regarding PDMS material is its short span of
life-time due to hydro-phobic property. Sometimes, it is really
difficult to use as a coating material in fiber optic sensors. So,
to solve these problems, further extensive study, research and
practical implementations are required to improve the
conditions and compatibility of PDMS materials for FOS
technology.
VI.

CONCLUSION

The basic working principle of fiber optic sensing


technology and detailed classification has been discussed in
this review paper. Various types of sensing technology and
method from recent years are also being reviewed and
discussed in this paper. It has been found out that, due to
certain limitations all these FOS have some sort of
inadequacy. They have a specific range for sensing the
specific parameters and in certain cases they are being
disabled to sense and determine the change. But these
problems can be conquered with the help of extensive
research, improvements, and usage of proper modern
components. The overall sensing performance and accuracy
can be significantly improved by implementing the PDMS
material as the coating material for fiber optic sensors. Further
appropriate study and research can improve the overall
compatibility between PDMS and fiber optic sensors and this
will result enhanced performance and durability.

Figure 3: A standard schematic diagram of PDMS-coated FBG sensor.

VII. REFERENCES
Figure 4: Different Transmission Spectra of PDMS coated FBG in different
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