Business

Wireless remote condition monitoring holds key to efficient asset management

Senceive monitoring at Pudding Mill Lane

A small serviced office in Fulham, south west London, is the unlikely heart of a technology revolution that could change the face of remote asset condition monitoring across the built environment.

Wireless sensors and remote systems to warn of unexpected or predicted movements in infrastructure assets are not in themselves new. However, the ability to rapidly deploy this equipment and leave it in the field for up to 15 years without power supply and without fear of failure is certainly a major step forward.

"Increasingly clients are also now seeking remote monitoring systems to assess and protect assets such as embankments, structures or tunnels over the longer terms as part of their on-going asset management strategies."

“We are changing the face of condition monitoring,” says Graham Smith, the engineering brains and driving force behind Senceive and the firm’s FlatMesh remote asset monitoring system.

It’s a bold claim. But as Smith presses forward with one of the biggest contracts in the firm’s short life - installing install 400 movement sensors to monitor the Bakerloo Line and Northern Line beneath the Shell Centre in Waterloo over the next five years -  certainly clients, contractors and specialist surveying firms are listening to his claim.

 Smith has been developing the technology for over a decade, working in darkened rooms with industry partners to think through and refine the system so that it provides what he calls a cost effective “plug and play” solution to asset monitoring that clients demand.

Typically clients have three choices when comes to remote monitoring – wired sensors, optical remote sensors or wireless sensors. 

“Our remote wireless systems mean that you now no longer have to send people out into the field to take measurements or into dangerous trackside locations to maintain and clear optical sensors" Graham Smith, Senceive

And while Smith accepts that all have their place in the big monitoring picture, when it comes to the ability to generate highly accurate results, quickly installed and without the need for regular maintenance, his FlatMesh product is leading the way. 

At the heart of his system is a range of wireless high precision geotechnical sensors including tilt meters, crack potentiometers, and movement sensors which are self-powered and linked to create a network of nodes gathering and reporting stable information, if necessary, in real time and to sub-millimetre accuracy.

“Our remote wireless systems mean that you now no longer have to send people out into the field to take measurements or into dangerous trackside locations to maintain and clear optical sensors,” he says. “This technology means that assets that were previously too difficult or too expensive to monitor remotely can now be quickly and cost effectively checked.”

It is a growing market. Live monitoring of infrastructure is now increasing important to clients and contractors as they look to maintain and enhance assets in the most effectively and efficient manner possible. 

Being able to protect existing assets (and the users of those assets) as new infrastructure is constructed alongside or below, is clearly a major issue for clients. This is only set to increase as the UK ramps up its programme of infrastructure enhancement across the rail, road, airport, power and water supply sectors and as commercial developments such as the Shell Centre and Battersea Power Station come on line.

Smith has already installed 630 sensors on the track to remotely monitor track cant at Crossrail’s Pudding Mill Lane site to protect the track while tunnelling and excavation goes on below, a contract which followed on from its successful monitoring of cast iron tunnels on the Jubilee Line at Bond Street which were at risk from soil erosion.

However, increasingly clients are also now seeking remote monitoring systems to assess and protect assets such as embankments, structures or tunnels over the longer terms as part of their on-going asset management strategies. 

As Smith points out, being able to accurately measure movement in assets or cracks over time allows engineers to more accurately predict performance and so better plan both capital and operational expenditure over time.

“Without doubt there is a lack of awareness about how this technology can help,” says Smith. “We need to build more relationships with prime contractors, consultants and clients to get the message out there.”