Spring/Summer - 2015

BridgeWatch goes Forth

Strainstall's innovative structural monitoring system set to significantly reduce costs.

Scotland’s new Forth Bridge, officially named ‘The Queensferry Crossing’, which connects Fife with Edinburgh over the Firth of Forth - looks set to be a world leader in using structural health monitoring systems (SHMS) to actively support its management, thanks to a custom-made newly enhanced BridgeWatch system from Strainstall.

The system brings together a highly specialised toolbox of sensors and data acquisition equipment with sophisticated new data processing capabilities to allow constant data monitoring in real-time. 

The innovative software utilises many complimenting technologies, such as the real-time reporting power of WebSockets and Bootstrap, an open source framework from Twitter to enable responsive design. The combination of these technologies makes more interaction possible between the user and the BridgeWatch website, allowing the system to offer a continuous stream of dynamic information.

This makes the Queensferry Crossing asset management system completely different from anything like it on the market - it doesn’t just collect and store large amounts of data over long periods of time, but it accurately acquires and processes data through clever algorithms using scientific computing libraries and big data analytics to provide insightful information that allows users to act swiftly, and with confidence. 

The advanced analytical processing capability allows BridgeWatch to be used as a preventative maintenance tool rather than merely a reactive diagnostic tool. Quick, effective decisions can be made to manage traffic or schedule visual inspections based on deterioration, so that repairs or adjustments can be made before they develop into anything more serious.

Systems engineer, Andrew Scullion who leads the system design says:

‘'Most structural monitoring is reactive: once a problem is identified the data it gives out is used to monitor how bad things are and how quickly the situation is likely to deteriorate. However, this system is fully integrated into the life-management of the structure - it is a proactive, preventative form of maintenance monitoring and as such it is breaking into new ground and opening up huge potential in other fields.

"For many asset monitoring systems the focus is on the sensors and their acquisition units, not on how the information is used. BridgeWatch shifts the focus to the end user and what they want from the system and from the data we collect.

"This is the first time the monitoring process has been integrated into the whole life-management of a structure, and it allows everyone to make better, more cost-effective decisions about how best to manage and maintain it."

Andrew’s previous work on the Humber Bridge and on projects with Cambridge and Sheffield universities allowed him to come up with the idea of transferring technology from other disciplines to form a cutting-edge monitoring solution that has the potential to transform the management of infrastructure assets.

The BridgeWatch technology is based on Strainstall proprietary software called the Smart Asset Management (SAM) system which is specifically configured for the bridge industry, but can be applied to other assets and structures that require monitoring and control – such as rail and transportation.

"Effective preventative maintenance, using a system like this means management teams can use real-time data to make informed decisions about whether to intervene and close a line or section of track for repairs, instead of waiting until something actually breaks and becomes unusable,"

concludes Andrew, pointing out the potential cost savings of fixing or repairing buildings, dams, tunnels and all other forms of infrastructure before they are actually broken.

Strainstall is working with the FCBC consortium on the project for the Scottish Government, and the team is divided into two with software managed by Andrew and hardware coordinated by site-manager, Dr Campbell McKee, who is responsible for the design and installation of the data acquisition units being installed into the bridge as well as the Strainstall sensors which are positioned across the entire structure.

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