Making future infrastructure more robust

Monitoring technology is helping industry professionals to work and build in a smarter way when maintaining future infrastructure assets, says Topcon Europe's Chris Emery.  

With an ongoing demand for infrastructure, there is more focus than ever on creating new assets, but also extending the life of existing infrastructure. In fact, a report shared in 2017 shows how investment in global infrastructure assets hit a record $413bn in 2016, a rise of 14% per cent on the previous year.

Currently, monitoring systems are used to assess how assets are behaving, especially as they get to the end of their design life. In Europe, for example, many post World War II assets are coming to the end of their design life, so monitoring systems are proving valuable. Despite their age, these assets are still fundamental to the current infrastructure networks so there’s an urgent need to determine their health. Data is key to helping us understand what to repair and what to replace. 

In the cases where new infrastructure assets are needed, there’s an opportunity to include the lifetime of assets in the very early stages of projects - even as early as the pitch process. There will also be the ability to monitor and collect data from the offset, which can then be used as a comparative through the asset’s lifetime. 

Working smart 

The movement to include asset life management in the pitch stages of projects could really help to revolutionise our approach to new infrastructure projects. 

Currently, construction companies install monitoring systems to cover the period of their work, but there is little incentive for them to consider a longer-term embedded monitoring system. Typically, asset managers will generally install the long-term monitoring systems in addition to those already installed, to cover the initial construction period. 

With new infrastructure projects, clients have the opportunity to extend the bid for work and include asset life management as a requirement. Contracts can be awarded and maintained throughout the entire lifetime of an asset, without any blurred lines around who is responsible for installing a monitoring system and who the data then belongs to. 

Although the systems required for construction and long-term monitoring are different in their objectives and are created separately, it’s more efficient to create a unified system that is designed specifically for the structure. During construction, any information acquisition tool can be created within the structure. The system is specifically designed for the structure, so any sensor or information asset technique can be used to create the perfect system for that structure. 

Building smart 

Adopting smarter technology in the early stages of infrastructure projects will also change the industry’s approach to the built environment. The Internet of Things, for example, is impacting our lives in all areas from the office to our homes, and it’s going to become even more common on construction sites. 

Creating smart assets involves embedding monitoring sensors into infrastructure during construction to make a ‘nervous system’ for the asset, enabling constant, real-time monitoring throughout its lifetime. The asset can be assessed from construction to maintenance, providing data that decisions can be based on. 

New technology can help futureproof systems to ensure they are robust enough to safely deal with the future quality and volume of data capture. 

Topcon’s Delta Solutions, for example, combine all of the hardware and software required to manage infrastructure projects to give total consistency. The system can also handle a range of inputs and outputs, making it versatile as well as scalable to any sized project.

It’s essential to focus on handling the data around existing and new infrastructure assets in a smarter way. Clients placing more of an emphasis on asset life management at the pitch stage of a project will mean it is planned for from the offset, making the process much more efficient. 

Correctly collecting, owning and understanding the data on a project is an essential component to creating the infrastructure we need now and in years to come.

Chris Emery is business development manager for monitoring at Topcon Europe.