New technology set to ease timber bridge crisis Friday, 22 August 2014

by Louise Wallace

Researchers at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) have developed a low cost timber bridge testing procedure to help councils better manage their ageing infrastructure by using apps on a smartphone.

Bridge repairs form a significant part of asset management for many councils across Australia, with an estimated 40,000 timber bridges in Australia. Recent surveys suggest most timber frames are nearing the end of their structural lives and are in desperate need of repairs to meet current safety standards. But with many councils restricted by limited budgets, many bridge asset owners are unable to fund comprehensive bridge maintenance programs.

In response, researchers at UTS have developed a new load testing procedure which measures bridge deck vibrations at a fraction of the cost of traditional procedures. Using accelerometers that measure vibrations, bridge strength is determined according to the stiffness of the bridge deck. Timber strength is also taken into account and algorithms are used to correlate stiffness properties to bridge strength.

While traditional load testing costs around $5000 per bridge span, the new technology costs approximately $850 per span. Many vibrations can also be measured using apps on a smart phone.

Professor of structural engineering at UTS, Keith Crews – who helped to develop the procedure – said the technology delivers significant benefits for public safety by identifying structural issues ahead of time and preventing the risk of collapse where bridges are unable to support weight loads.

It also makes bridge maintenance programs more achievable for councils by providing testing technology at a fraction of the cost, Crews added.

“Traditional testing procedures involve more costs and time because of their labour intensive nature, but this method produces the same results for less,” he told Engineers Australia magazine. “Ultimately it aims to increase public safety and ensure public funds are used more effectively.”

Following the launch of a comprehensive pilot program, Crews is now working with the Institute of Public Works Engineering Australia (IPWA) to develop an education program so that councils can use the technology themselves, and consult UTS for training and technical support. Discussions are now underway, with a program set to be rolled out next year.

This news item has been posted by Engineers Media, a wholly owned subsidiary of Engineers Australia.