4 Societal Benefits of Structural Health Monitoring (SHM)

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The monitoring and maintenance of structures that mark modern society has long been considered to be crucial. Applying effective approaches to the regular upkeep of bridges, skyscrapers, roads, and other structures is essential. In addition to the need to keep buildings and infrastructures running smoothly, maintaining safety and public health is also of great importance.

Today, new technological developments and methods are being utilized as part of a process now referred to as Structural Health Monitoring (SHM). Proponents of this emerging capability understand the importance of successfully maintaining civil infrastructures. Recently, various automated tools and systems have emerged to improve inspection processes and structural analysis for the benefit of society. In addition, government regulations for building and construction, required maintenance, and new mandates surrounding data collection applications have also contributed to the development of SHM. This emerging trend has a number of benefits, from improving safety standards and reducing risks, to discovering new opportunities to reduce costs.

Increased Safety

Greater efforts to improve SHM ultimately work to improve overall public safety. These efforts include everything from new guidelines and policies that help ensure building and construction safety, to the development of new technologies that make achieving safety simpler. Federal mandates requiring municipalities to repair or replace pipes that contain lead or corrosive damage, is just one example of how greater attention to SHM is helping improve public health. In the case of technology, new instruments are monitoring and analyzing digital information about the integrity of bridges, buildings, and other structures. This has made it easier to determine whether a structure is in good or fair condition, or is unsafe.

Advanced SHM methods—using sensors, data collection, and analysis—have greatly improved the ability of engineers to contribute to public safety. This is particularly important with aging structures. The SHM process could involve testing the faltering strength of old buildings, or analyzing the corrosion levels of older pipes that transport water or fossil fuels. New structures can also benefit from advanced SHM technologies. Continual monitoring and analysis helps pinpoint design flaws, and works to recognize environmental factors that may not have been considered in the building process.

Detecting Early Safety Risks

In addition to helping engineers recognize poor structural conditions and other safety issues, advances in SHM also help professionals determine potential future risks to safety. This has been particularly useful in preventing water and flood damage caused by failed dams, dykes, pipelines, and other similar structures. In this context, built-in sensors are able to monitor changes in water levels and detect minor leaks in water infrastructures early on—enabling engineers to help prevent more significant damage down the road.

New monitoring technologies can also be used to track the geotechnical details of foundations for roads, buildings, and other structures. This provides engineering professionals with the ability to detect ground movement early on, enabling them to prevent or mitigate catastrophic risks involved with earthquakes, landslides, and other disasters.

Longer Life Spans

Naturally, performing regular preventative and emergency maintenance on civil infrastructures helps increase their longevity. Various technologies and new approaches using SHM give engineers the tools to build and maintain longstanding structures like never before. Installing proper sensing technology not only provides greater details about structural health, but also helps account for human error.

Traditional methods of visual monitoring and analysis could often overlook design flaws or immediate safety risks. New instrumentation and methods now provide for greater accuracy by using digital data collection and analysis. Furthermore, automated inspection systems, and the increasing use of smart technology that provides real-time analytical details, allow for more frequent, more accurate monitoring and risk analysis. These have vastly improved the efficiency of inspections and detection, and have increased the effectiveness of maintenance procedures that reduce the likelihood of catastrophic structural failures and damage.

Cost Efficiency

In addition to improving safety and ensuring longer life spans for structures, SHM can also greatly reduce long- and short-term costs related to structural maintenance. Of course, reduced costs are inherent in improved safety measures that reduce the risk of catastrophes as well as structural and environmental damage. Likewise, maintaining structural integrity for longer periods of time reduces overall costs related to demolition and rebuilding. Additionally, SHM technology reduces the need to halt profitable operations for large-scale safety inspections, and to perform unnecessary maintenance on structural components that are still in good condition. This reaps economic benefits for business and industry.

As the monitoring and assessment capabilities of SHM become more sophisticated, and the list of benefits they provide continues to expand, the application of SHM technology will become more prominent.

Safety accountability and expectations for property owners, governments, and builders are likely to continue to increase. This means that more policies will be put in place to ensure that innovative SHM methods are being put to greater use. The end goals are to reduce costs related to inspection labor, mitigate the impact of structural disasters, reduce unneeded repairs, and improve public safety for us all.

Of course, there are some challenges with SHM in terms of standardizing policies, given the diversity of new and old structures as well as the range of construction methods. Still, advances in SHM continue to improve in the face of these challenges—and more professionals are recognizing the range of benefits to implementing SHM methods.

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Title Tag: 4 Societal Benefits of Structural Health Monitoring (SHM) Meta Description: Discover 4 societal benefits of structural health monitoring, including improving safety standards and reducing risks to discovering new opportunities to reduce costs.