Let’s see why it is so important.

Structural health (or structural monitoring) is an essential part of modern urban infrastructure. As the name suggests, it involves closely monitoring the performance of the structures that constitute modern towns and cities, especially those which may be vulnerable to processes like erosion, subsidence or other forms of decay. SHM can be applied to all forms of buildings or structures, from ancient buildings which have been standing for thousands of years, to bridges that are under construction in earthquake zones. Nowadays, monitoring generally takes place remotely via arrays of sensors which may be embedded within the fabric of the structures being assessed. As such, it has become one of the most important implementations of the Internet of Things (IoT), where data is collected from sensors in the real world for analysis at central locations.

How does SHM work?

All buildings can deteriorate and collapse. From the dawn of civilisation, we have suffered from the catastrophic effects of structural breakdown, from cities flattened by quakes or hurricanes, to fires, explosions and sudden collapses triggered by subsidence. While natural disasters cannot be predicted, general decay can be detected and averted. And if we know more about a building’s health, we can make it as resistant to vibra-tions as possible. Structural health monitoring seeks to give engineers the ability to prevent and predict structural issues before they cause any damage.
Generally, structural health monitoring involves the placement of sensors in locations where they can dy-namically detect relevant information about how the ma-terials in a structure are performing. The data from con-nected sensors can then be sent via 3G, Sigfox or wi-fi connections to analytical tools located in the Cloud.

Sensors range from components to assess steel fatigue, through to devices which can sense stresses placed on wires inside concrete modern buildings, and specialist sensors to monitor the health of the cables on suspension bridges. These sensors can monitor the forces acting upon potential stress points in structures, detecting things like ro-tational force, structural displacement and the develop-ment of microfractures in building materials. All of these factors can be symptoms of imminent collapse.

Using IoT sensors to Enhance Structural Safety.

When these advanced sensors are embedded in buildings, they constantly feed information to networks via the internet. This will usually take place via private secured channels, and may be tailored to include either engineering tablets or workstations. When an engineer consults the specialist structural analysis tools, they can access historical and current data about the safety situation of a specific structure, which can then feed into key decisions regarding maintenance. It can also inform the construction  process, making construction safer and more reliable. The beauty of using IoT sensors is that engineers can also access locations that are normally off limits. After the sensors are physically implanted, a stream of data can alert engineers to vulnerabilities as and when they arise.

How SHM helps the Engineering Sector.

Wireless diagnosis tools make it possible to achieve a level of situational awareness that was impossible a few years ago. With this technological revolution, structural health monitoring is leading to important advances in architecture and engineering. For example, smart cities are knitting together sensors at vital locations to provide advanced warning of weaknesses, allowing them to schedule maintenance tasks and prevent issues with civil infrastructure. And many modern buildings are fitted with IoT systems as standard, allowing their managers to have maximum awareness. But the biggest benefits may be felt in heritage and historical preservation. One of the most important   applications of structural health monitoring is in monitoring ancient buildings which may possess unique structural vulnerabilities. From cathedrals to Greek temples, these structures can be repaired and maintained before critical issues arise, extending their lifespan for future generations to enjoy.

As you can see, SHM has major economic and social advantages. If you are interested in learning more, contact NEXT Industries and talk to our team. We are experts in implementing Internet of Things-based structural solutions, and we are happy to work across a wide range of projects.