Sensing the Future: The Latest Monitoring Innovations and Their Applications

As the requirement for monitoring structures, highways, rail infrastructure, bridges, dams, ports, mines and other assets has increased and projects have become more complex, monitoring instrumentation and data management software has also developed to be more sophisticated. From handheld instrumentation and handwritten data points to cloud-based automatic data collection and analysis tools, instrumentation and monitoring systems have come a long way over the years and they continue to evolve.

Sheridan Elliott – SOCOTEC Monitoring’s data acquisition and system integration manager – is responsible for sourcing and testing the latest technologies and ensuring that the solutions SOCOTEC Monitoring offers clients are fit-for-purpose. Here, Sheridan shares his knowledge about some recent cutting-edge developments and discusses the process SOCOTEC Monitoring goes through to make these solutions available to clients.

Solving Engineering Problems Through Innovation

SOCOTEC Monitoring specialises in solving geotechnical and structural engineering challenges for clients. Every project is unique and requires a bespoke, innovative approach, but innovation in engineering does not necessarily have to mean finding new ways of doing things. It is more important to answer a client’s specific monitoring question and add value to a project by fully understanding their challenge and applying concepts and technology, whether old or new, in an innovative manner.

This process of problem solving for clients can involve looking at other seemingly unrelated sectors to source sensors which could be adapted and applied in a monitoring situation, considering how a sensor could answer a different question in a different environment.

Thinking Outside the Monitoring Remit

On a recent trip to SOCOTEC Italia, equipment that scans prestressed concrete and reinforced concrete to detect deteriorations in the internal rebar was demonstrated to SOCOTEC Monitoring’s technical team. While not strictly monitoring equipment, this impressive scanner removes the need for invasive structural testing and has obvious benefits for SOCOTEC Monitoring’s clients when applied to a bridge asset management programme, for example.

Being part of the SOCOTEC Group, SOCOTEC Monitoring can offer clients a greater range of complementary services, including emissions testing, water quality sampling, noise and vibration monitoring, asbestos testing and lots more. And, as SOCOTEC Monitoring does not manufacture its own products, the technical team has the freedom to select the best technology and equipment for the job, rather than being tied to certain manufacturers.

Keeping up With the Latest Technologies

While finding the most suitable instruments and systems for a monitoring project might not always mean using the very latest technology, keeping on top of what is new is vital to ensure SOCOTEC Monitoring continues to offer clients the very best solutions.

Curiosity and a natural interest in technology is key to this. The SOCOTEC Monitoring technical team keeps abreast of the latest developments by reading trade magazines and blogs, being members of various organisations - such as the Institution of Engineering and Technology and the Institution of Civil Engineers - and following existing and potential suppliers closely on social media to hear about product launches.

Attending trade shows, not always directly related to monitoring, is also crucial as they provide the opportunity to see and experience products in action first hand, and investigate ways they can be adapted for use in monitoring applications.

Ensuring Monitoring Systems are Fit for Purpose

Sourcing new technologies and devising creative ways to apply existing techniques is only half of the requirement. Ensuring that solutions are fit for purpose for clients involves rigorous testing. SOCOTEC Monitoring tests new technologies and equipment to breaking point before they are deemed ready for use in the field. This process identifies any weakness and the technical team frequently works with suppliers to adapt and improve products so that they are suitable for SOCOTEC Monitoring clients.

Working closely in this way with key suppliers means that SOCOTEC Monitoring is among the first to learn about the latest product developments and allows the technical team to influence the product development roadmap by assisting with R&D and beta testing, helping to make emerging technologies suitable for SOCOTEC Monitoring’s clients. 

Some of the Pioneering Solutions SOCOTEC Monitoring is Currently Delivering for Clients

PRIME - Low Cost Geophysical Ground Imaging Technology

Driven by the increasing number and severity of failures in flood defences, transportation and utilities earthworks, PRIME was developed by the BGS Geophysical Tomography Team. Combining state-of-the-art geophysical ground imaging technology with innovative data telemetry and web portal access, PRIME enables asset owners to 'see inside' vulnerable earthworks such as embankments, cuttings and dams, and delivers automated updates on condition changes, providing early warnings of asset deterioration.

PRIME is the new generation of ‘smart’ earthworks monitoring system using diagnostic methods routinely used in medical physics, and SOCOTEC Monitoring is pleased to be the exclusive delivery and installation contractor of PRIME in Europe. You can read more about this innovative technology and its applications here.

InSAR Based Data Products - Enhancing Satellite Imagery 

Asset managers are required to meet increasingly stringent demands relating to the safe performance of new and ageing infrastructure. InSAR is a unique technique for monitoring large area ground and structural movements to millimetre accuracy, without installing physical sensors.

Traditional InSAR data products alone are unable to identify different modes of movement, provide analysis of trends within time series data (including historical data), or detect and send alerts of unusual movements. The traditional outputs of InSAR (ie Blue - Uplift, Green - Stability and Red – Subsidence) can 'hide' the full story of more complex movements of the ground.

However, when such data is combined with a suite of additional data products, asset managers are able to optimise their asset's maintenance regime, validate ground-based measurements and reduce what was traditionally tens of thousands of points of concern, to tens of points of concern.

Low Cost GNSS Monitoring - Detecting Millimetre Movements in Earthworks and Buildings

SOCOTEC Monitoring uses a low cost GNSS device that delivers high value data to monitor the smallest of movements to critical land and building infrastructure. Detecting millimetre level movements, this device is used to monitor the stability of earthworks (embankments,

cuttings and flood defences), above and below ground construction sites, buildings, bridges and supporting structures, temporary structures (stands), and the natural environment (landslides, earthquakes, coastal erosion and ice caps).

All sensors are tied into a common three-dimensional reference frame providing local, regional and national analysis and, as it is cloud-based this information can be accessed from anywhere on multiple web-enabled platforms. Other features include: easy to install with minimal maintenance; low powered with renewable energy charging; alarming; and real-time and time-aggregated movement reporting available via text, email or online.

Calyx OMS - Web-based Data Delivery for Complete Monitoring Control

Early data visualisation packages were DOS based, moving on to Windows based shortly after. Your PC had to be in the same location as your data so if there were any issues and you wanted to view your data, it resulted in a site visit. Now, data is all cloud based so clients can log in at any time on any connected device from anywhere in the world to view the data which is vital to decision making throughout a monitoring campaign.

SOCOTEC Monitoring developed Calyx Online Monitoring Software™ to offer 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.

Predictions for 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 projects and clients. Even in the next five years, we are likely to see some, if not all, of the following: increasingly intelligent and connected sensors; improved data security; less requirement for data hubs and gateways because the sensors will communicate with each other; even more sophisticated analytics giving greater insight into the behaviour of assets; use of augmented reality to visualise changes, and much more.

If you have a monitoring challenge to discuss, or are just interested to learn more about the innovative technologies and techniques SOCOTEC Monitoring is using on behalf of clients, please get in touch.

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