Complex structural monitoring systems are becoming more commonplace on construction sites across the country. Paul Thompson reports on a new trend.
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The recent heavy rain and flooding has helped concentrate the mind. Landslips and structural failures − with the tragic consequences that have been witnessed recently “ are a very real threat indeed.
It is a threat that the custodians of our ageing road and rail networks take seriously and sites across the country are being monitored for settlement, slippage, stress and strain.
But all too often monitoring systems are seen by clients and contractors as a necessary evil rather than the important, useful measuring tool they are.
Monitoring arrays are seen as contractual requirement not a helpful device for structural assessment.
“Often monitoring systems are not used to their full potential,” says Rory O’Rourke, managing director of Bury based geotechnical and structural monitoring specialist Datum.
“We are able to make sure everyone has the latest data, tables, diagrams and crosssections.”
He argues that clients should concentrate on the management of useful information rather than the installation of expensive 3-D monitoring systems that may be capable of delivering huge swathes of data.
“Sometimes we get requests to tender for the installation of systems that may be inappropriate. There seems to be a mentality that you need to spend lots of money to get the right results but that is often not the case,” he says, adding: “It makes you wonder if adequate advice has been sought before the decision to install monitoring.
O’Rourke’s company offers a full turnkey service for the supply, installation and operation of manual and automated monitoring systems. He claims that he often has to rein back the wishes of his clients.
“Sometimes we have to explain that they can get better results using a different type of monitoring than they had anticipated. We want to use technology that we know works − not that which is in vogue,” he says.
The real key to delivering good structural monitoring systems is not necessarily the amount of data generated but the quality of that data and the speed at which it can be delivered to engineers and designers. When things start to go wrong the key is to make sure data is available quickly and is easy to interpret.
“Clients need to be able to understand the relevance of the data we are supplying and they need to be able to understand it quickly. We are able to make sure everyone has the latest data, tables, diagrams and cross-sections updated within 30 seconds,” says O’Rourke.
Instant access to information enables engineers to pin-point the precise information they need.
Instant access to information enables engineers to pin-point the precise information they need. Engineers can switch on to view the data at the precise moment − like if a fully loaded freight train passes over an embankment.
“We use our expertise to include sensible data that engineers need and we can get it to them quickly. “Even our manual readings − piezometer and inclinometers − are available within 24 hours,” he says.
It is that turnkey approach to monitoring that has seen Datum called up on sites across the UK, Ireland, mainland Europe and the United States.
The Dublin Port Tunnel, Limerick Tunnel plus many Network Rail, highways, piling, quarrying and demolition projects have all been given the treatment.
“Anything that needs some sort of measurement and monitoring we can learn from. Tougher legislation on dust, vibration and noise control means that there are opportunities in a range of sectors,” says O’Rourke.