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How Geotechnical and Structural Monitoring has Evolved, and Where It Is Heading

From measuring flow using a bucket to capturing data in the cloud, as geotechnical and structural monitoring projects have become more complex, instrumentation and data management software has become more sophisticated to meet changing client requirements.    

As we near the end of 2019, Sheridan Elliott - SOCOTEC Monitoring’s technical manager - provides an overview of how instrumentation and data management systems have evolved over time, as well as touching on a few predictions for the future.

Sensors in the good old days

In the past, sensors were very primitive. Readouts were all handheld and site technicians were required to travel across the country to take measurements manually, which was incredibly labour intensive. To measure flow, for example, a site technician’s specialist equipment would include a bucket. Having a known volume, the technician would record how long it took to fill that bucket, manually writing the measurements down.

Inclinometers, which are used to measure deformation of an embankment, whilst a little more sophisticated than a flow jug, still required a lot of hardware and all measurements still had to be handwritten.

Graph paper is now a thing of the past

In earlier years, monitoring data was collected using a readout unit, with site technicians travelling to site to plug an inclinometer in, for example, writing down each data point at half meter intervals. Some of these inclinometers could be over 50m deep, so it would involve recording a large number of data points. The site technician would then be required to travel back to the office to plot these data points manually on graph paper.

Over the past 10 years, the industry has moved to using silicon-based products and MEMS (Micro Electrical Mechanical Systems), as well as wireless sensors. Whilst the instrument is still required to be installed on site, by inserting the probe into a bore hole, all data readings are transmitted cable-free via Bluetooth communication to a rugged field tablet and stored in the cloud. When the technician returns to the office, reports are automatically generated and emailed out to the client.

 

Vertical Digital Inclinometer

Vertical digital inclinometer with field tablet used today

Data visualisation supports vital decision making

Early data visualisation packages were DOS based, moving on to a Windows platform a year or so later. The PC had to be in the same location as the data, so if there were any issues and the site technician or client wanted to view the data, a site visit was required. Now, data is all cloud based, so clients can log in at any time, on any connected device, from anywhere in the world.

SOCOTEC Monitoring developed Calyx OMS™ (online monitoring software) to provide a user-friendly graphical interface, which allows quick and easy interpretation of large amounts of instrumentation data from multiple sources. This web-based software package can be fully configured to suit specific user and job requirements and can be deployed on virtually any project, regardless of scale.

With Calyx OMS™, the type of monitoring data recorded and the way it is delivered is highly flexible. Accessible 24/7, it provides continual monitoring of site conditions, offering status updates and reassurance to clients wherever they choose to view the data. Sensor-specific thresholds can be defined which enable Calyx OMS™ to issue SMS and email action alerts to those who need them.

Data provided through Calyx OMS™ is vital to decision making throughout a monitoring campaign, so ensuring that this data is presented clearly and is constantly accessible is paramount to successful site projects. As Calyx OMS™ is browser based, it can be accessible from any location with an internet connection and the simple and clear project specific dashboard provides a summary of site conditions at a glance. Data may also be made available for use with other applications, such as asset management platforms.

Where is monitoring heading in the next five years

Instrumentation and data management software has come a long way, but it is constantly evolving to meet the ever-changing requirements of clients and their projects. Even in the next five years, SOCOTEC Monitoring expects the industry to adopt some, if not all, of the following equipment and techniques.

 

Sensors

  • Will become more intelligent and connected at the network edge, being able to communicate with each other as a cluster so that they can adapt if one experiences movement. Clients do not want to process large volumes of data unnecessarily, so if a sensor is in place for 10 years and experiences little activity, reading intervals could be increased. If something changes around a parameter, the sensors would re-programme these reading intervals accordingly.

 

  • Will be capable of remote firmware upgrades, as more sensors get connected to the network via Wifi, Cellular or through wireless protocols. With the wireless sensors SOCOTEC Monitoring uses currently, site technicians are required to go to site to carry out these upgrades.

 

  • Improved data security will be required as devices become increasingly interconnected. To reduce the ability of hackers to access data gathered on large high-profile infrastructure projects, security will form a core part of the next generation of sensors.

 

  • As new buildings are constructed, they will have sensors built into them which integrate into the building management system, moving towards the creation of smart buildings within smart cities.

 

Data Recorders

  • Currently, dataloggers are housed in fairly bulky enclosures, so they can be quite large in size. As sensors become more connected, there will be less requirement for data hubs and gateways because the sensors will communicate with each other. Cloud-based recorders will also become increasingly popular, enabling greater data sharing between devices and systems.

 

Data Display

  • Analytics will become even more sophisticated, giving greater insight into the behaviour of assets, allowing clients to better predict how buildings, for example, could deform in the future.

 

  • The way data is visualised will also develop, with virtual augmented reality becoming more common. If a structure is moving, a client will be able to watch how it has moved via a live 3D model. For example, if your tunnel is deforming, a client will be able to put on a headset and look down the tunnel, seeing how it has deformed in 3D without physically having to be there. Clients will also be able to see what effect that might have on the running of a train.

 

  • BIM (Building Information Modelling) is being used more and more in infrastructure design and the construction process but the geotechnical aspects are still often overlooked. Geotechnical data is likely to become more included in the BIM model, helping to ensure that the geotechnical and structural teams are fully integrated and aiding vital decision making.

 

If you have a geotechnical or structural monitoring requirement to discuss, please contact the SOCOTEC Monitoring team. We’re always happy to share our expertise.

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