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Monitoring of Large Structures: how technology contributes to infrastructure longevity

13 October 2021
Article by Nuno Felício, responsible for business development in the area of ​​advanced monitoring and structural integrity.

We often only realize how vital for the normal functioning of society infrastructures are, such as buildings, bridges or tunnels when they suffer some kind of disruption. This type of unforeseen event, however, is increasingly rare due to several recent technological advances.

The ability to monitor structures, particularly large structures, is one of the most important advances in this field, and has a preponderant role in ensuring the safety of people and goods, for the longevity of infrastructure, and for its efficient operation and management. It is, therefore, one of INEGI's technological areas of specialization.

Civil infrastructure, throughout its useful life, undergoes an expected degradation process. This process, however, can be accelerated due to multiple factors, such as natural phenomena, excessive load, or even due to design or construction defects.

This is why it is important to know their condition, and thus be able to carry out timely and effective interventions, minimizing the risk of unforeseen and potentially serious failures from a financial and operational point of view.

"We are talking about bridges, tunnels, slopes, road support walls or railway structures"

The monitoring of structures allows you to obtain detailed information regarding the behavior of structures, which may be of special importance in various scenarios, such as:
  • short/medium term instrumentation for the purpose of structural analysis, diagnosis or investigation of failure indications or events;
  • development and installation of long-term monitoring systems that allow for the early detection of structural anomalies;
  • monitoring of structural safety parameters in works under construction;
  • integration of digital tools to support infrastructure management, which in turn open up new possibilities for commercial entities (added value) and management entities (greater management efficiency).
Bridges, tunnels, slopes, road support walls or railway structures, among other large structures, are examples of the type of civil structures that typically require or benefit from structural monitoring. So INEGI has, in recent years, carried out extensive work in the field of monitoring structures, namely large ones.

In this context, the MEGE project, implemented at Madeira airport, stands out. At the request of ANA – Aeroportos de Portugal, INEGI developed two systems for monitoring the airport's structures: the monitoring of deformations of the runway support beams, using image correlation techniques, and the monitoring of the state of the infrastructure protection berm breakwater, often subject to erosion, using drones and techniques of photogrammetry.

The Safe Cities project also represents our performance in this field. In partnership with Bosch Security Systems, we are creating a structural monitoring system for the analysis of displacement fields in urban infrastructure. In line with the need to prevent and anticipate failures, the project carried out for APDL - Administration of the Ports of Douro, Leixões and Viana do Castelo stands out, which included the instrumentation and structural analysis of the Leixões Bridge in order to identify the probable causes of anticipated wear of some components of the structure.

In all these projects, monitoring systems and solutions are critical to ascertain the structural integrity of the buildings, and support quick decisions about maintenance, necessary repairs, or other interventions.

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