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Intelligent Structures: Making Bridges Talk - Digitally

 Brian Westcott, CEO For years, bridge managers have dreamt of “smart bridges” – bridges that can tell them exactly what is needed to minimize risk, maximize mobility, and stay within budget. But expensive technology and expertise have made smart bridges an elusive dream. Until now.

Intelligent Structures (IS) is changing the game. “We make bridges talk – digitally,” explains Brian Westcott, CEO of Intelligent Structures. Taking an enterprise IT approach, IS’s innovative platform, IntelliStruct, is designed from the ground up to be both technically advanced and radically economical. With this decision support solution, bridge managers will know the detailed state of their bridges in real time and are able to prescribe precision maintenance, rather than teardown and rebuild. IS’s goal is to extend the useful life of bridges from 50 to over 100 years. This is digital disruption for bridge management, essential to keeping smart cities moving.

"Our bridge monitoring systems help with both real time data on structural behavior, as well as identifying trends and changes over time"

Our Bridges are in Trouble

In the US, there are over 600,000 bridges, and a quarter of those bridges are in trouble. US bridges are aging, becoming riskier and more costly. About 10 percent are posted for reduced loads, about 10 percent are classified as structurally deficient, and another 10-12 percent are classified as functionally obsolete, according to the Federal Bridge database.

Traditional methods of bridge management are sorely outdated and inefficient. In 1968, in response to the collapse of the Silver Bridge in West Virginia causing 46 deaths, bridge inspection became mandated by federal act. It has been required that all bridges have biennial (every two years) inspection. The majority of inspections use a visual procedure which is highly variable. For example, in a Federal Study of Inspection reliability 2003, visual inspection ratings varied by up to five points, on a total scale of 10 for the same bridge. Our bridges, and thus our mobility, are at risk. With today’s technology that has so clearly revolutionized other aspects of business and our personal lives; we can and must do better. This is where Intelligent Structures comes in.

The Solution: IS’s Enterprise Bridge Performance Management Platform

A confluence of innovations and events has come to the rescue of aging bridges. IS has developed a bridge performance management platform based on Internet of Things (IoT) technology and enterprise cloud architecture: IntelliStruct TM. It gives bridge managers the power to precisely measure bridge performance and manage bridge life cycles to minimize risk and maximize mobility, all within limited budgets. IS expertly leverages technologies such as low-cost sensors, IoT, edge computing, wireless communication, mesh networks, big data analytics, and machine learning to enable “smart bridges”. Smart bridges offer the opportunity to drastically improve the real-time knowledge of the health of a bridge, and precisely manage the bridge for safety, efficiency, and longevity. Managers can prevent bridge restrictions and closures, and direct budgets for maximum impact. This is imperative as our traffic loads increase, while our infrastructure deteriorates.

“Intelligent Structures combines advanced sensor technology with highly customizable edge computing and cloud-based enterprise software to deliver the critical information owners need to optimize the management of bridges,” says Doug Thomson, CTO, Intelligent Structures.

Fact-Based Decision Support for Bridge Managers

Intelligent Structures is on the forefront of delivering smart bridge solutions. Leveraging advanced information technology, IS’s bridge performance monitoring and decision support platform enables bridge managers make highly informed, fact-based decisions.

Intelligent Structures combines advanced sensor technology with highly customizable edge computing and cloud-based enterprise software to deliver the critical information owners need to optimize the management of bridges

Here’s how it works:

• Sensors are installed on bridges - measuring strain, acceleration, displacement, temperature, cracks, water height, and/or tilt, depending on the bridge.

• Two-Level Edge Computing: Component level sensor data is collected and analyzed in a set of IS’s proprietary I-Bridge wireless modules, then sent through a mesh network to IS’s I-Bridge controller that performs additional bridge level analytics. This enables economic wireless transmission to the cloud.

• Cloud-based Analysis is performed by IS’s expert analysis engine, creating a dashboard of key metrics and trends for bridge managers, as well as red flag alerts and alarms.

• The Management Dashboard is transmitted to bridge managers in real time. Managers can easily monitor a single bridge, or a fleet, and see where problems are brewing. This enables decisions to prioritize bridge issues, precision maintenance plans, and provides fact-based support for the ever-critical repair/rehabilitate/rebuild decisions. The benefit is enormous – bridge managers can more effectively use their limited budgets to keep their bridges safe and open, for longer.

• Machine Learning and big data analytics update and adapt predictive models to anticipate bridge life cycle performance. Future scenarios are assessed to guide optimal bridge operating strategies, thus maximizing life cycle performance.

Everyone Benefits

With smart bridges, everyone benefits: safety and mobility for people and users, and economy for budgets.

With IS, bridge owners have the ability to track key data on the performance of their bridges including a periodic digital signature (performance snapshot), component defect monitoring (for critical components), live load testing, and continuous monitoring. This gives owners the data to enable real-time management, as well as critical optimization of fleet planning and management over a 10-20 year horizon. Bridge owners see returns on implementation of IntelliStruct of over 50 percent IRR for individual bridges as well as application to strategic operations management of their entire fleet of bridges.

“Intelligent Structures has developed a new approach to providing decision support for the management of bridge assets. Their monitoring system for bridges collects real-time data that provides us with information on the structural behavior and is also able to detect any changes in the performance of the structure over time,” explains Russ Andrushuk, Executive Director – Structures, Manitoba Infrastructure.

Architect engineers, responsible for bridge design and engineering, leverage IntelliStruct for key data and analysis to support their assessment of bridge performance, and exactly what management actions are required. Growing databases of bridge performance and issues will influence future designs. Bridge inspectors combine the visual inspection information with a measured indicator of bridge state to provide a significantly more accurate assessment of bridge health. Their expertise allows for better assessment of bridge condition. TranSystems, an architect engineering firm and Intelligent Structures partner with a focus on transportation systems, states that measured performance provided by IntelliStruct is the future of the industry.

“Historically, acceptance of Bridge Health Monitoring solutions was limited due to challenges related to installation, durability, data transfer, power supply, and data processing. Intelligent Structures’ smart bridge approach provides cost-effective solutions for each of these challenges. Owners now have a cost-effective option to customize a solution that supports their bridge management decisions. They have real-time access to their bridge monitoring installations through the web. The system provides trend analysis, alerts, and other measures of how their bridge inventory is performing.
Going forward, as more owners recognize the value in real-time monitoring of their bridge inventory to their maintenance and rehabilitation decision making, the industry will expand rapidly,” says Lawrence Kirchner, P.E., S.E., Vice President and Senior Associate, TranSystems.

Early Success

IS is already seeing success. A province in Canada that manages over 2000 bridges wanted to incorporate measured bridge performance into their operations. IS implemented their solution on a few bridges as proof of concept, resulting in identification of a key issue with a bridge not functioning as anticipated with overweight vehicles. The return from this information is over 50 percent annually. The customer was impressed with the results and has begun scaling the system to monitor their fleet of bridges. The capability applies equally to bridges owned at the city, state, or national level, and to private operators including railroads.

Changing Management Strategies for Changing Times

Recently, the Federal Highway Administration has issued new requirements for highway and bridge asset management that go into full effect in June 2019. These new requirements involve development and implementation of risk-based asset management plans, minimum standards for bridge and pavement management systems, and periodic evaluations to determine if reasonable alternatives exist to roads, highways or bridges that repeatedly require repair and reconstruction activities. IS’s smart bridge platform delivers the measured performance and economic analysis to support these DOT requirements and become the global platform for bridge management. This is the path to a new generation of bridge management strategies.



Smart Bridges: Essential for Smart Cities

“Cities are becoming ‘smart cities’ by leveraging technology for improved infrastructure efficiency. There are many dimensions of the smart city vision, but a key element is always mobility. And, bridges are the critical bottleneck in traffic mobility,” adds Westcott.

As IS creates smart bridges to improve our existing infrastructure, the technology and data are primed to integrate into a consolidated community infrastructure. This will strengthen a smart city data foundation and offer the next level of benefit: from a smart bridge, to a smart fleet of bridges, to an integrated smart city.

In addition to improving the day-to-day operational efficiency of cities, the smart city vision includes strengthening the resilience of a city to recover from catastrophic events such as earthquakes, tsunamis, and hurricanes. Smart bridges will be stronger, thus better able to withstand a major shock, and the measured performance information will provide critical information to evaluate damage and aid in rapid recovery. Smart bridges will help a city quickly regain mobility after an extreme shock.

Governments and infrastructure managers are reviewing the use of information technology to increase the productivity of their assets. In many cases, this will require an increase in IT budgets. In the case of smart bridges, this IT investment will be offset with high returns from improvements in bridge life cycles and saving 30-50 percent in the bridge annual budget.

Looking to the future, IS is developing advanced analytics using the data collected to build a database of how different bridges perform. They will apply machine learning to this data to help all bridge designers and managers become more efficient. Even more exciting, this technology has the potential to be applied to other structures such as buildings, parking garages, and dams all over the world.

The Imperative for Change

The industry must change. Bridges are failing, and there is not enough budget to keep up with the current bridge management processes. Innovation is required to do more with less. IS delivers the solution with IntelliStruct. With smart bridge technology, the life of bridges can be extended, and the lifetime cost of operating a bridge can be reduced by 30-50 percent.

“If we don’t innovate, in 10 years we’ll have autonomous vehicles traveling over crumbling bridges inspected by people using hammers and chains,” concludes Westcott.