In simple terms, there are two ways to monitor the movement of bridges, dams and other critical structural infrastructure – manually or automatically. Depending on the nature of the project, and the timeliness of the data requirements for decision making, you may use one or the other for the best results. However, there are significant benefits to consider should you choose to employ an automated real-time monitoring system on your next project.

The most noteworthy types of projects that benefit from an automated real-time monitoring system are construction excavation and building projects, concrete and earthen dams, bridges, and open pit mines and associated tailings dams. 

Whether you are concerned about an aging dam, a steep mine wall, or the effects of construction excavation on nearby buildings, it is critical to know about potential problems sooner rather than later. This is the key advantage of real-time monitoring over manual or campaign monitoring. Instead of waiting days, weeks or months until the next survey shots are taken by a survey crew coming to the site, you are alerted to motion when it occurs, giving you more time to determine the right course of action and take appropriate steps to mitigate risk.

Debunking a Monitoring Myth

Some project teams have stayed with manual monitoring due to concerns about the complexity of setting up and configuring several geotechnical sensors for use by the automated monitoring software. While this has been a pain point in the past, with the launch of Trimble 4D Control version 5 software, this set-up is much easier.

In Trimble 4D Control version 5, new integration with Worldsensing’s Loadsensing gateway hardware streamlines geotechnical sensor set-up, allowing the user to rapidly connect and configure geotechnical sensors from multiple manufacturers with hundreds of sensor models supported. It simplifies the set-up and configuration process for users, delivering data streaming immediately from the geotechnical sensors.

Benefit #1: Immediate Results

At Trimble Monitoring Solutions, our vision is to protect life and the environment by monitoring the integrity of the world’s structural infrastructure. Our solutions include reliable hardware sensors feeding real-time data to robust and comprehensive monitoring software to help you analyze, visualize and most importantly, alert you to unwanted motion as it occurs.

With automated monitoring, you can see how critical structures are performing or check the health of a structure over time. Sure, you can do this manually, but with real-time monitoring, if anything starts to change, you will be alerted and see it as it is happening – not weeks or months later.

Trimble 4D Control Web Analysis 1

Through the monitoring instrumentation, from sensors to total stations to the GNSS receivers, your structure will speak to you. With a monitoring software platform, the data being collected by the instrumentation is easily visualized and analyzed, providing a complete picture of stability or highlighting areas of potential concern.

One of the main safety features of Trimble 4D Control version 5 software is real-time alerting. For example, take a mining operation with a high-pit wall. As soon as any change in stability is detected by user-defined alert thresholds, you (and other key stakeholders) will be notified immediately if the wall has started to move. This gives you the information needed to act quickly so you can minimize wall failure and property damage, and help ensure the safety of life.

Another example using real-time monitoring is on urban construction projects to help mitigate risk and manage surrounding buildings liability concerns. Trimble 4D Control can help monitor movement and vibration of buildings near an excavation site, ensuring these buildings are unaffected by the construction work at the site as well as movement of the pit walls in the excavation area itself. If movement and/or vibrations become too great and threaten the structural stability, an alert is immediately issued so proper mitigation steps can be taken on the project to reduce the chance of damage. In dense urban areas and near historical buildings, monitoring around construction site excavations or tunneling projects is especially important. 

Benefit #2: Protect Life With Real-Time Data

Looking back, monitoring that focused on the architectural aspects of infrastructure began in the early 1800s. Today, some survey crews are still using these traditional methods simply because that’s the way it has always been done. 

It is well-known that structural infrastructure all over the world is aging, but we can’t just hope a bridge or dam won’t fail. In March of last year, a pedestrian bridge at Florida International University collapsed after experiencing extensive cracking in the structure. Other recent bridge failures in Italy and India also have drawn attention to the need for better accountability for bridge safety. This accountability applies to any structural infrastructure, especially when considering the possibility of loss of life.

With real-time monitoring, measurement ranges and alerts can be tailored to the specific needs of the individual structure and risk assessments for potential loss of life should a structural failure occur. As is detailed in a white paper from the U.S. Society on Dams, the reassurance a real-time monitoring system provides to dam owners is critical because they are directly responsible for the consequences of a dam failure. Installing a real-time monitoring system can greatly reduce the likelihood of a catastrophic failure.

Trimble 4D Control Web Analysis 2

This assurance applies to any type of structural infrastructure. According to Wikipedia, there are approximately 84,000 dams in the U.S. and more than 600,000 bridges of which a large number would benefit from real-time monitoring. Typically, these are being monitored manually once a month and some only once a year, or even less frequently. If there is any question about the stability of your structural infrastructure project, automated monitoring becomes a critical piece of your risk mitigation plan.

Benefit #3: Increased Data Analysis

Robust and powerful, Trimble 4D Control version 5 software provides unparalleled movement analysis as well as a high level of compatibility to support a variety of monitoring sensors from total stations to piezometers and crack gauges to GNSS reference receivers. It also includes an integrated, automated network adjustment engine to support the processing of geodetic data. 

Installing an automated monitoring system removes the need for regular surveyor visits to take measurements once the system is set up as it runs continuously. There is no more traveling to and from the site or setting up the equipment precisely for accuracy of comparison. The real-time movement analysis can be accessed remotely at any time. This allows your surveying team to take on additional projects with the same manpower while still keeping tabs on critical movement at the monitored site, thereby enhancing team productivity.

Trimble 4D Control Web Scatter Plot

This level of data analysis from your monitoring system may detect a bridge support beam is gradually deteriorating. Or, it may alert you that a mining pit wall has shifted. The sooner you take steps to fix a potential catastrophic failure, the less expensive it will be. With continuous monitoring checking key parameters of a structure 24/7, you can have peace of mind and experience significant financial savings.

In addition, there are numerous other savings built in to Trimble 4D Control version 5, from the new sensor configuration workflow to the simplified geotechnical sensor communication to get projects set up more quickly and easily than ever before.

Thinking Long-Term

Installing a real-time monitoring system represents an investment that delivers several benefits. You will have an up-front expense, but over the long-term, you will experience both cost and time-savings. You will also have greater knowledge of the performance of the structure, knowing that your monitoring system will tell you the minute something changes. From that point, you can then take the steps necessary to mitigate any potential environmental or life safety issues – as soon as you know, in real-time.

Trimble 4D Control version 5.0 is available now through Trimble’s Distribution Channel. To learn more, visit:  https://www.trimble.com/Monitoring-Solutions/Trimble-4D-Control.aspx.


About the Author

Trimble-Monitoring-Solutions
Trimble Monitoring Solutions

Trimble’s Monitoring Solutions business area develops products that serve multiple vertical markets, offering systems that provide up-to-the-minute data on the condition and behavior of earthen and civil structures.