What Is The Weight Requirement For A 15 Year Old Technology Empowers Engineering Firms To Improve National Infrastructure

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Technology Empowers Engineering Firms To Improve National Infrastructure

Humans are creatures of habit, and most of us are reluctant to step out of our comfort zone. This enduring truth is evident in many domains, but in technology, its implications seem vast and challenging, threatening to spell national catastrophe.

Isaac Asimov, an American author and professor of biochemistry, said in a lecture at the Newark School of Engineering in New Jersey: “To my surprise, I found that throughout history, there has been resistance… …and the pain, the exaggeration, the last-pitch resistance…every major technological change that’s ever happened on the planet. Often the resistance comes from groups that lose influence, status, money… as a result of the change.”

Professor Asimov’s observations on America’s bridge inspections are astute. One could even say truer things have never been said. As the world’s sole superpower, the United States is expected to set the standard for the rest of the world. So it seems implausible, even shocking, to observe the archaic method that is still widely used to inspect the country’s important bridges. Why? And, even as technology improves, bridges still require human inspection. Why?

This is certainly not for lack of viable alternatives. Infrastructure Preservation Corporation (IPC) President Doug Thaler said, “Modern technology has greatly enhanced the capabilities of today’s inspection and engineering workforce. Traditional infrastructure inspection methods are over 50 years old and obsolete. The quantitative data provided by new technology enables inspection more efficient, and also allows DOT to better allocate existing funds within its current maintenance budget.”

The federal government awards contracts to large engineering firms. Engineering firms already have funding in their hands when projects are entrusted to different departments within the company. The bridge inspection department continues to happily assign tasks to inspectors based on “billable hours.” This is how things have happened over the years. Despite countless red flags waving wildly at them, they still remain the same.

On August 1, 2007, the Interstate 35W bridge over the Mississippi River collapsed during rush hour, killing 13 people, injuring 145 and destroying 111 vehicles, later blamed on serious flaws in the original bridge design. Manual inspection never found this, because focusing on design aspects is outside the scope of manual inspection. The bridge is weakest where it should be the strongest, and everyone is blissfully unaware of the disaster that awaits. Technology likely averted disaster because the data obtained by science is accurate and consistent, and will point to anomalies that go unnoticed by human inspection.

Doug Thaler describes how IPC recently inspected a small bridge in Florida using BridgeScan™, an effective tool for quickly determining the condition of aging bridge decks. The engineering company that won the bridge repair contract suspected that there was a problem, but the Ministry of Communications believed there was no problem. The data provided by IPC’s BridgeScan™ identified several issues that weren’t even suspected and led to more projects for the engineering firm – and more revenue in the process.

“So it’s an absolute fallacy to reject technology from smaller companies and make the mistake of thinking that big engineering companies will lose money,” Thaler said.

Most of America’s bridges and highways were built in the 1950’s, and they are consistently forced to carry more traffic than they were originally intended and designed for. Also, modern vehicles are much heavier than earlier vehicles, which provided guidelines for bridge weight when making blueprints.

Federal and state guidelines for manual inspection of bridges are also about 50 years old, and their approach is highly subjective. However, about 15 years ago, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) acknowledged that “for more than 30 years, inspectors have relied primarily on visual inspections to assess the condition of bridges.” The FHWA also acknowledged that non-destructive testing (NDE) techniques are not as widespread as they should be application. Even 15 years ago, the FWHA recognized that “new NDE techniques are increasingly being sought to address difficult inspection challenges beyond normal visual inspection capabilities.”

FHWA, at the direction of Congress, established a Non-Destructive Evaluation Verification Center (NDEVC), which in 1998 conducted research on the accuracy of the bridge inspection process. During the course of its research, NDEVC discovered that the deep inspections performed manually can actually miss many types of defects for which such inspections are intended.

IPC is pioneering a new frontier in non-destructive technology (NDT), with robotic systems that can identify degradation of concrete and other structural materials at an initial stage and recommend repairs before degradation propagates and compromises bridge safety.

The automated inspection of bridges by IPC inspection technology through low-cost drones and robotic systems will actually strengthen the prospects for engineering companies to hire engineers and technicians to participate in enhanced bridge maintenance work. As a result, these companies can grow revenues and profits in ways they never anticipated.

As a result, engineering firms need to change with today’s ever-changing demands. Sticking to the outdated laws will not only cause the loss of precious life and property of the country, but also take away valuable opportunities for engineering companies to improve their strength and profit margins.

American philosopher Wayne Dyer once said: “If you change the way you see things, what you see will change.”

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