In effect, structural health monitoring seeks to
provide accurate information about the status of structures. There are obvious
safety and economic benefits associated with this concept of monitoring systems
and providing sufficient warnings, so that problems can be avoided and solved.
Today, the U.S. freight rail network is widely considered one of the most dynamic
freight systems in the world according to the Federal Railroad Administration. In
addition, U.S. rail network’s importance is enhanced by its 140,000-mile system
that moves more freight than any other system worldwide, and by the jobs and
public benefits it generates across the country.
The structural integrity of bridges that carry
railroad tracks is important to the safety of railroad employees and to the
public. Therefore, routine inspections are prescribed to detect superficial
signs of deterioration. Usually, according to the Department of Transportation,
the routine controls consist on visual inspections conducted by the bridge
engineers and bridge supervisors, sometimes not even being close to the bridge
and having to be performed with binoculars for difficult to reach areas. The
high-cost and unreliable nature of visual inspections can limit the use of the
approach to a full-scale bridge. It is also needed to monitor dynamic behaviors
of a railroad bridge in the presence of train loadings since inspections are
almost always carried without any train load, which adds more uncertainty about
the bridge structural health.
Researchers at the University of New Mexico have
developed an inexpensive structural health monitoring method that employs
low-cost sensors for railroad bridge reference-free displacement monitoring and
live load monitoring of railroad bridges. By using an inexpensive microcontroller
and an accelerometer, bridge vibrations and various frequencies and amplitudes
were simulated and tested. The values obtained by the microcontroller were very
similar to those of commercial accelerometers while being sixty times cheaper.
STC has filed intellectual property on this exciting new technology and
is currently exploring commercialization options. If you are interested
in information about this or other technologies, please contact Arlene
Mirabal at email@example.com or 505-272-7886.