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Giving our bridge a ‘voice’ with IoT technology The Sydney Harbour Bridge (SHB), like many iconic structures around the world, is ageing

and requires regular preventive maintenance. Frequent inspections are essential and best practice but this alone may not be the most cost-effective and efficient way to maintain the majestic ‘coathanger’ in peak condition. What if the SHB could talk to us and tell us when she needed attention? Well, using the latest computer science and data techniques, Australia’s ICT Research Centre of Excellence - NICTA - is effectively doing just that. The Structural Health Monitoring project being developed by NICTA for Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) uses lightweight, low-cost sensor technology and advanced data analysis to provide real-time monitoring of the structural health of the SHB and the safety of its concrete deck. “In essence, the bridge tells us when it thinks it needs attention,” says Peter Runcie, business leader - structures NICTA. “We can sometimes think of this as giving our infrastructure assets a ‘voice’.”

What inspired the project? “RMS wanted to extend the life of certain bridge components without significantly increasing maintenance expenditure,” said Runcie. The bus lane on the eastern side of the SHB was built in the 1950s to replace the tram line that was there previously. Underlying this lane are almost 800 supporting components that bear the load of the 1.2 km-long roadway above. These concrete and steel components have been exposed to salt spray and weather over the years and are showing signs of their age. Physical access is difficult. In order for RMS to conduct its regular two-yearly inspections on this part of the structure, workers need to either abseil down, use cherry pickers to come up from the ground or access via the maintenance gantry that travels under the bridge. Runcie says what RMS required was an early-warning system that could monitor the condition of this part of the bridge between inspections and help determine when preventive action was needed. This would be complementary to the existing ongoing scheduled inspection program. “When RMS could not find any technology on the market that could help them do what they wanted, they came to NICTA and we had to invent it. "We like solving difficult but worthwhile problems, so it was a good fit for us,” says Runcie.

Why use IoT technology? One of NICTA’s strengths is increasing productivity through data analytics and optimisation.


© iofoto/Dollar Photo Club


he risk for organisations that today base their businesses on static information architectures is that they may miss out on new opportunities to improve business outcomes, efficiency, safety and sustainability through not having access to the useful information that the IoT can provide. Those that adapt earlier to the information available from the IoT will have a competitive advantage. The efficiency, safety and sustainability benefits of this type of pervasive sensing can be well explored in a manufacturing or processing environment: • The IoT can provide constant feedback on consumer buying behaviour, allowing manufacturers to better optimise their product marketing and packaging, as well as their manufacturing process, in real time, or at least more responsively than is currently possible. • Manufacturing systems with a multitude of sensors can be controlled more efficiently and provide feedback on their condition and maintenance needs in real time. • Autonomous or semi-autonomous manufacturing technologies such as robots can monitor their own environment for hazards and automatically take corrective action, improving safety and uptime. • Products on the production line fitted with RFID-based sensors can initiate specific made-to-order options in their own assembly and manufacturing, eliminating or reducing retooling. • Workers in a plant can wear IoT-enabled identification that enables them to be monitored for location and safety-related parameters, such as exposure to harmful environments, or to locate them in an emergency - a powerful application also in the mining and process industries. • Process plants and mines can more easily deploy and take advantage of safety and environmental monitoring though IoT technologies. • IoT-enabled sensors outside the environs of a plant, mine or wellhead could provide data that can be used by the plant operator. For example, environmental sensors monitoring groundwater in the vicinity of coal seam gas extraction could provide real-time data to not only environmental authorities and local councils, but also to the wellhead operator itself.

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Sustainability Matters Dec2014/Jan2015  

Sustainability Matters is a bi-monthly magazine showcasing the latest products, technology and sustainable solutions for industry, governmen...

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Sustainability Matters is a bi-monthly magazine showcasing the latest products, technology and sustainable solutions for industry, governmen...