Smart infrastructure

Crossrail Project (credit: Crossrail Ltd)

Research in the Department of Engineering into sensing and data analytic technologies has led to new approaches to the performance and safety monitoring of civil engineering infrastructure during both construction and operation.

The development and maintenance of civil engineering infrastructure involves major investments by government and the private sector. Despite the high asset value, and the critical economic and social importance of reliable and safe infrastructure, technical asset management approaches are historically low-technology and low fidelity, relying on site visits and physical testing at a very limited number of points in space and time.

The Cambridge researchers developed a robust optical fibre sensor installation technique that could provide new insights into detailed soil-structure interaction mechanisms for large, complex engineering structures. They developed the technique further through a series of projects for a wide variety of structures including piles, pipelines, tunnels, slopes, soil nails, motorway embankments and cuttings.

These new approaches to performance and safety monitoring have led to the development and deployment of smart infrastructure approaches for asset monitoring and management. In the UK, examples of impact include major construction costs savings, improved safety on construction sites, and the protection of historic buildings during underground construction. The new monitoring techniques have led to one business alone reducing CO2 emissions by 1,000 tonnes since 2016 through reduced use of construction materials

In addition, over 25 new jobs have been created through three spin-out companies and Skanska’s CemOptics new instrumentation system based on the research.

The smart sensing research has also led to fibre optic sensing technology being added to the 2016 Institution of Civil Engineers guidelines on practice.

“We continue to work closely with the Cambridge CSIC [Cambridge Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction] team on a number of projects, using fibre optic monitoring technology. This promises to revolutionise our asset management approach and practices.”

– Head of Geotechnics, Network Rail