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Global Team Pursues Safer Structures

Friday, February 28, 2014

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Mindful of a rash of recent structural collapses worldwide, engineers from three countries are teaming up to develop a real-time monitoring system that could sense serious structural weaknesses before they fail catastrophically.

Working with a grant of just over $1 million from the government of Qatar, engineers from the U.S., Canada and Qatar have been tasked with developing a wireless sensor network that will monitor vibrations, sagging and stresses on structures. 

Qatar is preparing to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and structural integrity and safety are getting loads of attention as the country plans a massive complex of stadiums, bridges, tramways, tunnels and other facilities for the event.

Qatar Sharq Crosing
Santiago Calatrava via whatatechnology.com

Engineers from three nations are teaming up on a sensor system to monitor potential structural failures or weaknesses as Qatar builds bridges like the Sharq Crossing and other infrastructure in preparation for for the 2022 World Cup.

Worker advocates have already accused the country of abusing the mostly-immigrant labor that is rushing to build the venues. Meanwhile, Brazil, racing a June deadline for its World Cup, has also sustained construction setbacks that have cost lives.

Lives have also been lost in the collapse of the Westfield Montgomery Mall in Maryland, U.S.; a new high-rise condo in Medellin, Colombia; a supermarket in Riga, Latvia; the Algo Centre Mall in Ontario; and six buildings in six months last year in India.

According to the U.S.-Qatar Business Council, the country is planning to spend up to $100 billion in infrastructure projects for the 2022 games. In addition, proposals to connect the nearby state of Bahrain with a 25-mile causeway have been underway for a decade.

Borderless Teamwork

Engineers from the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada, and Qatar University have been tasked with developing the monitoring system.

The goal is not only to detect damage after it occurs, but also to predict vulnerabilities that could signal future failures. The system would also be used to guide periodic preventive maintenance. 

NJIT will work on optimizing sensor placement and data collection; Memorial University will investigate electrical aspects of the wireless sensor network; and Qatar University will install the wireless network and collect the data. 

The three-year project will start in May with a kick-off meeting at Qatar University to discuss the first steps. 

Before the end of the year, the team plans to install sensors on several existing bridges in Qatar to monitor their behavior. 

Optimizing the System

With its portion of the grant, NJIT will build a small bridge model in the facility's structural lab in order to test the system. 

Qatar World Cup stadiums
Facebook / U.S.-Qatar Business Council

Qatar plans to spend up to $100 billion in infrastructure before the 2022 World Cup. The new Umm Slal Stadium will be used by the Qatari soccer team after the games are over.

"Our part of this project is to determine not only where to place the sensors, but to decide what type of data the system will collect; how to interpret it; and then how to make a decision about where, when, and to what extent to intervene," Mohamed Mahgoub, director of NJIT's Concrete Industry Management program and one of the project's principal investigators, said in a press release

"While the network can be installed on existing bridges, the aim is to embed it in a structure's steel bars before the concrete is even poured," Mahgoub explained. 

While the standard practice is to monitor bridge sensors continuously, Mahgoub said sensors for this project will be triggered only when there is movement on the bridge. 

He is also focusing on efficiency and cost-cutting by reducing the number of sensors used to gather data and the amount of data collected. 

"It takes so much time to analyze, and much of it is irrelevant," Mahgoub said.

"We would also save money, labor and traffic interruptions by optimizing when to intervene and make repairs—deciding whether a smaller fix is needed in the short-term or whether it is better to wait for a larger fix." 

Knowledge for the Future

Mahgoub said he planned to hire a post-doctorate fellow to work on the system, as well as recruit undergraduate students to help analyze data from the sensors and illustrate the information with graphs. 

"[Concrete Industry Management] students at NJIT will learn how to detect and predict concrete damage by analyzing the collected data from the wireless network that is attached to any structure," Mahgoub said. 

According to Mahgoub, students will gain valuable knowledge that they can later apply in future construction management jobs "to evaluate infrastructure in the U.S. and around the world." 

   

Tagged categories: Bridges; Grants; Infrastructure; Research; Stadiums/Sports Facilities; Structural steel

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