Smarter, safer bridges with Sandia sensors

Smarter, safer bridges with Sandia sensors

InfrastructureSmarter, safer bridges with Sandia sensors


Published 12 July 2018

In 2016, more than 54,000 bridges in the U.S. were classified as “structurally deficient” by the Federal Highway Administration’s National Bridge Inventory. This means about 9 percent of U.S. bridges need regular monitoring. Researchers outfitted a U.S. bridge with a network of eight real-time sensors able to alert maintenance engineers when they detect a crack or when a crack reaches a length that requires repair.



Along with flying cars and instantaneous teleportation, smart bridges, roads. and subway lines that can send out warnings when they’re damaged are staples of futuristic transportation systems in science fiction.


Sandia National Laboratories has worked with Structural Monitoring Systems PLC, a U.K.-based manufacturer of structural health monitoring sensors, for over 15 years to turn this science fiction into science fact. They outfitted a U.S. bridge with a network of eight real-time sensors able to alert maintenance engineers when they detect a crack or when a crack reaches a length that requires repair.


This week, Sandia Senior Scientist Dennis Roach presented his team’s work at the ninth International Conference on Bridge Maintenance, Safety and Management. His presentation included data on this trial bridge, a general assessment of the sensors used and his proposal for how to make structural health monitoring more routine in transportation infrastructure.


Sandia says that the goal of structural health monitoring is to increase supervision of critical areas, extend the lifetime of structures and ultimately reduce operating costs and improve safety. In order to assess the condition of a bridge or another kind of transportation infrastructure, sensors are mounted on the structure and their data needs to be properly analyzed.


In 2016, more than 54,000 bridges in the U.S. were classified as “structurally deficient” by the Federal Highway Administration’s National Bridge Inventory. This means about 9 percent of U.S. bridges need regular monitoring. “Areas that are difficult to access or things that are remotely located like bridges, pipelines and other critical structures present significant challenges to properly monitoring the health of the structure or equipment,” said Roach. “A network of structural health monitoring sensors could be a solution, or at least help ensure the necessary vigilance over these components.”


Recently, Sandia and Structural Monitoring Systems, which has a significant presence in North America, worked together with Delta Air Lines Inc. and the Federal Aviation Administration to get the Comparative Vacuum Monitoring sensors industry certified for crack detection on commercial aircraft. Roach’s work with structural health monitoring for commercial aircraft began in 2001 through the FAA’s Airworthiness Assurance Center, which has been operated by Sandia for the FAA since 1990.


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