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In Lighting the Path to Innovation Blog
authored by Structural Health Monitoring Opportunities

Structural health monitoring (SHM) has slightly different definitions depending on who is asked, but the most comprehensive says that SHM is the process of implementing a damage detection and characterization strategy for structures.  This includes sensors to collect structural data, the hardware to process sensor inputs, and experts to use analytics tools to glean actionable insights from the data collected. SHM is used to monitor the structural integrity of bridges, buildings, dams, levees, tunnels and other civil infrastructure.  Aircraft, wind turbines, and other large structures also benefit from SHM. The largest area of growth for structural health monitoring systems is with new construction, but retrofitting existing structures is also a growing area.

SHM is still a relatively small market comparatively, but is set to grow at a rapid pace over the next five years.  According to a study by Markets and Markets, the SHM market, including software, hardware and services, was valued at $.5 Billion and will grow at a rate of 25% year over year to reach $1.89 Billion in 2020. The United States and Europe are leading the pack when it comes to implementing SHM strategies, however Asia-Pacific will see rapid growth since countries such as China have established codes that help facilitate the deployment of SHM systems.

Why Structural Health Monitoring Matters

The primary driver for installing SHM systems on infrastructure is to ensure safety. Structural failures result in significant monetary cost and unquantifiable human loses.  There are a few recent examples of failures such as the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis that collapsed in 2007. Thirteen people lost their lives and 145 were injured.  In addition to the tragic loss of human lives, the collapsed bridge cost the state $400,000 to $1 million every day and a replacement bridge cost $237 million. Structural failures are extremely costly. Unfortunately, the United States has a significant ageing infrastructure problem.  According to data from the 2015 National Bridge Inventory report conducted by the Federal Highway Administration, there are 58,495 structurally deficient bridges in the United States today. A structurally deficient bridge is one that has advanced corrosion, deterioration, cracking or chipping to the deck, superstructure, or substructure as well as significant erosion of concrete bridge piers. By retrofitting bridges and other critical infrastructure with SHM systems, infrastructure owners can help avoid tragedies like the I-35 bridge collapse.

map of states with deficient bridges

The above map illustrates the percentage of structurally deficient bridges found in each state as of the beginning of 2016. Image source: http://www.artba.org/economics/2016-u-s-deficient-bridges/

Benefits of Structural Health Monitoring

Structural health monitoring systems can help asset owners transition from schedule based maintenance to condition based maintenance.  This is a proactive method rather than a reactive method.  The benefits of this approach are twofold: the organizations responsible for maintaining the structure can reduce maintenance cost by only conducting maintenance when it is needed and damage can be detected early for a proactive response. In this way, SHM systems both improve safety and enhance the longevity of structures.  Early damage detection on a structure is critical to the longevity of the asset.  For example, if a crack is detected as soon as it forms, maintenance crews can repair the damage before it spreads and further compromises structural integrity.

Conclusion

Although the concept, and some deployments, of SHM have been around for decades, adoption of SHM strategies have not taken off until recent years. Early systems flooded infrastructure owners with too much data without enough actionable insights. This continues to be a challenge for the industry, but with the help of Big Data analytics and improved analysis methods, there are emerging SHM systems that are able to provide the actionable insights required by structure owners. Those who are early to this rapidly growing market will reap the greatest benefits in the future. For more information about Sensuron’s capabilities for structural analysis, complete the form below to download a white paper.

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