There are over 610,000 bridges in America, more than 40% of them over fifty years old. The technology used to monitor the state of American bridges has changed significantly since most of these original structures were built. In fact, it’s changed significantly in just the past decade alone.
What Bridge Monitoring Entails
Bridges fail in a number of different ways, in a variety of different capacities. Every bridge is composed of thousands of individual elements – from bolts to concrete slabs - that themselves can pose a risk if not maintained; when jointly in disrepair, these elements can actually make a bridge dangerous. A few of the parts of a bridge that are most likely to become structurally deficient include the piers, the decking, the cables, and the attached utility piping.
Comprehensive bridge monitoring is an ongoing process, not a one-off line item. Monitoring implies active participation. It involves constant measurement, both internal and external, of a bridge’s stressors, weaknesses, and degradation points.
Today’s Bridge Monitoring Process
Monitoring a bridge is a far more complex process today than it was just 20 years ago. Modern bridges (both newly-built bridges and significantly-updated bridges) contain more innovative materials, support more sensitive utilities, and handle exponentially more traffic than they ever have before. Thankfully, new technologies are bridging the gap between yesterday’s techniques and today’s methods.
Here are a few of the most notable developments:
Ground penetrating radar (GPR) is a relatively new technology used to pinpoint shallow targets and cracks in tunnel walls, and it’s also used to map a bridge’s innermost structures. This capability is incredibly useful as ageing bridges are updated to support much-needed utilities such as natural gas piping and/or telecommunications equipment.
Acoustic monitoring (i.e. sound waves) are also becoming more and more popular for bridge applications. Totally non-invasive, acoustic monitoring devices can continuously detect fractures, tension, and even corrosion, preventing unnecessary repairs. Acoustic monitoring creates a significant amount of data which must be processed using specialized software.
Ultrasound technology has long been one of the most important tools in the field of structural health monitoring. The technology continues to improve and is today one of the most portable, cost-effective ways to assess specific areas within bridge structures. Ultrasounds are incredibly useful when bridges are retrofitted with utility pipelines, for example, as they can be used to identify both weak and strong attachment points within the bridge’s exterior structure.
Aptus is a leader in the bridge-attached utilities industry. Our experienced teams utilize the latest technologies to properly install, maintain, and replace the utility pipes supported by America’s bridges. Our work can be found on some of the oldest and the youngest bridges in the country.
Would you like more information about Aptus’ specific technical capabilities? Reach out to a regional Aptus representative near you to find out what we have to offer your project.