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Urgency of using technology in bridge inspections is a sink or swim situation for engineering firms

April 17th, 2018   Author: Rajika Jayatilake

Becoming Part Of The Steamroller

Engineers, by the very nature of their profession, are keenly aware of the need to ensure public safety. Infrastructure, in particular, is an expensive asset that needs to be consistently cared for, so cities can keep their communities safe without burdening them with higher taxes or disrupting the smooth flow of daily life.

Bridge Collapse
bridge collapses

Engineering firms, entrusted by the federal government to maintain the bridge networks in cities and states, understand that preventive maintenance, though expensive, is a critical component of facilities management.  US Senator from New Jersey, Cory Booker once said, “We should not be scrimping on investments in public safety. The lack of infrastructure spending is costing us lives in America.”

Think of the collapse of Interstate 35W Bridge over Mississippi River during rush hour on August 1, 2007. This disaster killed 13 people, injured 145 and destroyed 111 vehicles. The bridge collapse was later attributed to a serious flaw in the original bridge design. It was a fundamental problem but continued to be overlooked year after year, because manual bridge inspections would not in any case pick up on what was a flaw in the gusset plates.

 

Bridge collapse kills 10 in Colombia – Khaleej Times

https://www.khaleejtimes.com/international/bridge-collapse-kills-10-in-colombia

Jan 16, 2018 – 

 

Bridge collapses on train, captain escapes with mild injuries – Saudi …

saudigazette.com.sa/…/SAUDI-ARABIA/Bridge-collapses-on-train-captain-escapes-wit…

 

Jan 21, 2018 – The captain of a cargo train, which was on its way to Dammam from Riyadh, was injured on Saturday when a bridge under construction collapsed on i

 

At least 4 dead in pedestrian bridge collapse at university in Miami …

https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/15/us/miami-bridge-collapse/index.html

 

Mar 16, 2018 – At least four people died Thursday when a pedestrian bridge collapsed near Florida International University, Miami-Dade County Fire Chief Dave Downey said.

 

It is unfortunate that engineering firms continue to use antiquated manual inspection methods. The tragic consequences may have been averted if current technologies were utilized. The days of awarding the inspections to the same old firms conducting inspection the same old way, needs to end.  If not by the asset owners than certainly after enough disasters dictate.

 

For instance, if, instead of manual inspections, engineering firms would update 50 year old antiquated inspection protocols and utilized modern technology and robotics into not just the NBIS bi annual inspections but  the interim and county bridge  inspections than we would be taking steps to help avert some of these disasters.  It is a simple matter of logic. Looking at a concrete deck and seeing cracks is not as effective as utilizing an inspection system like  BridgeScan® that peers through the concrete to check for voids that may be forming, looks for water intrusion, delaminating concrete, rebar placement and much more.  Immediate action can be taken well ahead of any catastrophe.

 

 

post tension tendon inspection

Current manual inspection of PT Tendon

If visual its too late!

post tension tendon inspection

Robotic inspection peers through PT Tendon

Takes “MRI” like scan of tendon.

Modern technology greatly empowers infrastructure Inspection and Engineering staff,   providing quantitative data to identify problems with accuracy, while manual methods are subjective and different inspectors give different reports for the same piece of infrastructure. Conclusions can range from underestimation to overestimation of the strength and dependability of a bridge. In the face of inaccuracy, disasters are just waiting to happen.

 

Precious lives and property can be saved only with the will to break away from convention. American design expert Donald A. Norman rightly said, “Technology may change rapidly, but people change slowly.” Clinging to antiquated inspection methods is a classic example of people being unable to change their mindset as fast as technology advances.

 

A recent NBC report urges change in current procedures, citing a new report by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association compiled using government data. The report counts 54,259 bridges in America bridges that are categorized as “structurally deficient.”

 

NBC asks a very pertinent question. “Are the best technologies being utilized in construction materials and inspection services to stretch every dollar, manage maintenance and repairs while being sure that the top priority of keeping the public safe is always the first priority?” 

 

Indeed, material deterioration, fatigue, vibrations, foundation integrity issues, design flaws and consistent loads and overloads on bridges weaken their serviceability and lifespan, and their ability to keep people safe. Extreme weather conditions add to the problem. Intense heat can warp concrete and steel while salting of bridges in harsh winters will corrode concrete and steel. 

 

Conventional technologies used over the years up to the present, will not expose problems until it is too late to prevent a disaster.

 

On the other hand, systematic technological inspection processes provide specific data to categorize bridge conditions and to evaluate specific needs in terms of repair, retrofit, upgrades or replacements. For instance, robotic wire rope inspections can easily inspect bridge suspender cables for loss of metallic area. It can do this with a 1 man crew without costly lane closures or expensive bucket trucks parked on the structure. Not only is the inspection safer for the inspector and the traveling public but is conducted within the current department of transportation’s maintenance budget.

 

 

 

cable stay inspection

Manual Inspection Visual not 360 degree, dangerous. Subjective.

cable stay bridge inspection

Robotic. No lane closures or bucket trucks. Full 360 degree views. Quantitative data.

Nondestructive testing and robotic bridge inspections will also yield quantitative data and uncover issues at an early stage to avert disasters and to prolong the serviceability of bridges. Our company, Infrastructure Preservation Corporation, IPC, has trail-blazed new frontiers in nondestructive testing technology (NDT), automating inspection through low-cost  robotic services. The robotic systems can identify deterioration in concrete and other structural material at the initial stages, which will galvanize repair and maintenance before deterioration spreads and compromises the safety of bridges. Therefore, engaging robotic engineering services  is the way forward in bridge inspection.

 

Recently, IPC BridgeScan™ effectively uncovered several issues on the aging bridge decks of a small bridge in Florida, which, if gone unnoticed, would have harmed life and property. These problems would not have come to light if not for technology.

 

With the benefits of technology being so obvious, why the unwavering allegiance to outdated inspection methods? As the world’s only super power, the US is expected to set standards for the rest of the world to follow. So it seems incredulous, even shocking, to observe antiquated methodology still used in bridge inspections.

 

Engineering firms need to urgently change with the changing needs of the day. Clinging to outdated methods will not only cost the nation precious lives and property, but will also rob the companies of valuable opportunities to enhance their capabilities and profit margins.  Yes, technology will actually strengthen the prospects of more projects and work opportunities for engineers and technical staff, in enhanced maintenance work on bridges. Work will generate from new issues identified by technology, which would have remained hidden through manual inspections. Firms can thereby shore up earnings and profits totally unanticipated ways. American philosopher Wayne Dyer once said, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” And, technology does not drive change, it only enables change.

 

As much as old habits are hard to overcome, survival requires embracing change. American author Stewart Brand said, “Once a new technology rolls over you, if you’re not part of the steamroller, you’re part of the road.” However, as social media specialist Simon Mainwaring says, “Effectively, change is almost impossible without industry-wide collaboration, cooperation and consensus.” So, there needs to be a collective will to change perspective.

 

Above all, the safety of the public should be top priority. Dismissing imminent risk to innocent lives is untenable. Marcus Cicero, the ancient Roman politician, made a timeless observation. “The safety of the people shall be the highest law.”

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