How monitoring technology can be used to assess our future infrastructure assets.
ASSET life extension is a particularly popular phrase in our sector as we come to a pressure point with demand for infrastructure. There is more focus than ever on creating new infrastructure assets, but also extending the life of existing infrastructure. For example, in Germany alone, a budget of €270bn has been dedicated to restoring existing infrastructure.
In the UK, there will be an investment of more than £28bn in the next four years into London’s infrastructure according to a report from Arcadis. We have to work smarter to meet the demands of an increasingly urbanised population. Currently, monitoring systems are used to assess how an asset is behaving, especially as it gets to the end of its design life. This is particularly key across Europe where many of the infrastructure assets that were built post World War II are now coming to the end of their design lifetime. These assets are still fundamental to the current infrastructure networks so there’s an urgent need to determine if they are still fit for purpose.
We need the data to assess what to repair and what to replace. With new infrastructure assets, there’s an opportunity to use technology to monitor and collect data in a much more intelligent way through the whole lifetime of the asset.
Built to last – monitoring future assets
There is now a movement to build smarter tech into infrastructure projects. An example of this is the Internet of Things. It is impacting on our lives in all areas from the office to our homes, even to our kettles. It’s also a technology which is going to become more common on construction sites.
Creating smart assets involves embedding monitoring sensors into infrastructure during construction to make a ‘nervous system’ for the asset, enabling constant and real-time monitoring for its whole lifetime. The asset can be monitored and assessed – from construction to maintenance. This provides a huge depth of data with which to base maintenance decisions on. For example, how many people cross over a bridge or the number of times a valve opens in a dam. Using traditional and new monitoring techniques to create useful and valuable data is the future of monitoring.
A long term approach
One of the key issues that is a barrier to the adoption of this form of monitoring is confirming who owns the responsibility for installing the monitoring systems, and who the data belongs to. At the moment, construction companies install systems just to cover the period of their work, and there is often little commercial incentive for them to consider a longer-term embedded monitoring system.
Currently, if there is any responsibility taken, it’s by the asset manager, who will generally install the long term monitoring systems in addition to those installed to cover the initial construction period. Although the systems required for the construction and long-term monitoring are different in their objectives and are usually created separately, it’s more efficient to create a unified system that is designed specifically for the structure. During construction, any information acquisition tool can be created within the structure. The system is specifically designed for the structure, so any sensor or information asset technique can be used to create the perfect system for that structure.
When it comes to the issue of data ownership, infrastructure can be particularly sensitive for data sharing, especially for the power and utilities sector where assets can be vulnerable to security threats. This makes the issue of taking responsibility for data even more risky, as whoever owns the data, is responsible for its confidentiality.
The asset owner, or contracted operator, should ultimately have responsibility for owning the data, but it’s essential there is a robust protection system of data stored in the cloud to protect against hacking or data leaks. Data security is an issue which is going to increase within monitoring, as photogrammetry and scanning becomes the industry standard technique in gathering monitoring datasets. As an industry, we’ve got to futureproof our systems to ensure they are robust enough to safely deal with the future quality and volume of data capture.
There’s a real need for long term maintenance and asset management to be taken into consideration when contracts are awarded for work to ensure that infrastructure assets are effectively and smartly monitored through their lifetime. Technology such as Topcon’s Delta solutions combine all of the hardware and software that is required to manage infrastructure projects from construction, to asset monitoring to give total consistency. The solution also can also handle a range of inputs and outputs, making it completely versatile as well as scalable to any sized project.
It’s essential to focus on handling the data around existing and new infrastructure assets in a smarter way. Processes become more efficient as they are supported by smarter technology. Correctly collecting, owning and understanding the data on a project is an essential component to creating the infrastructure we need now and in years to come.