Challenges to Successful Implementation of Structural Health Monitoring

NDE/NDT for Structural Materials Technology for Highways and Bridges
August 25-27, 2014
Washington, DC

Jeffrey Weidner, Matthew Yarnold and Nathaniel Dubbs

Structural Health Monitoring (SHM) as a concept has started to make the transition from academia and research to industry. This burgeoning field faces many challenges that are common to newly adopted technologies and paradigms. There is a clear lack of a defined ontology for the field. Ten practitioners would provide ten different, though related definitions of SHM. Many bridge owners are not yet fully invested in the technology either, some having been burned in the early days by an overabundance of data with little to no interpretation. These preconceptions will continue to plague SHM as an industry until owners begin to see return on investment and actionable information on a regular basis. Fortunately, these challenges are typical of any new technology-driven industry, and will subside with time, successful applications, and creative improvements.

There are more basic and subtle challenges that pose a greater threat to the success of SHM. In order to understand and counteract these challenges, one must first understand the fundamental tenets of SHM. The following are requirements to successful SHM:

  1. SHM systems are bridge-specific, not a one-size-fits-all solution
  2. The value of SHM must be considered over the life of the system and the structure
  3. SHM systems provide value through safety, improvements in operation, and tracking of bridge performance

Given these tenets, a cursory assessment of a typical SHM application for both a new construction project as well as for extending the life of an existing structure would throw up immediate red flags. The purpose of this paper is to highlight and discuss these fundamental conflicts between the core principles of SHM and the typical application in use today.

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