Drones and robots are taking over industrial inspection, according to a September 2017 article in MIT Technology Review1. Innovations in artificial intelligence and machine learning have enabled inspections of transportation systems, pipelines and power lines. It can be seen that low-cost drones and robotic systems, in combination with machine learning advances, make possible the automation of both low skill and trained labor. There has been and continues to be concern over job automation in offices and manufacturing—but automation of industrial safety inspections will only empower inspectors, not replace them. IPC inspection technology serves as a prime example.
There have been many examples of advanced inspection technology that have saved untold funds in emergency replacement of structures. The state of South Carolina has implemented a bridge monitoring system that is proving to hold down costs by being utilizing on eight bridges2. Sensors for girders installed on a bridge are utilized to measure the bridge’s carrying capacity, and are monitored 24/7. In one instance, data retrieved from these monitors made it possible for the South Carolina Department of Transportation to solve a bridge’s issues through a retrofit costing $100,000, as opposed to a replacement cost of $800,000. The monitors come to a cost of about $50,000 per bridge, and all told have saved taxpayers $5 million. There are more than 8,000 bridges in South Carolina, and the potential savings are huge given that systems such as this are being utilized in Utah, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Michigan and North Dakota.
“Modern technology greatly empowers Inspection and Engineering staff today,” said Doug Thaler, President of IPC. “Traditional infrastructure inspection methods are over 50 years old and quite outdated. New technology provides quantitative data that makes inspection far more effective, and also allows DOTs to better allocate existing funds within their current maintenance budgets."
The latest federal surface transportation authorization, known as MAP-21, could possibly lead more states to utilizing similar technology. This is because it requires them to have and use asset management plans, identifying times that investing in maintenance makes more sense than replacing a structure. The importance of investment in maintenance is exemplified by the fact that in Boston currently the repair of a single bridge is costing Massachusetts taxpayers over $180 million. One study discovered that the performance of routine maintenance throughout the 100 years the bridge has been in service would have saved over $80 million2. There is an added bonus—this kind of technology means fewer lane closures during inspections. This also equates to money saved both for the department of transportation and in the millions of dollars of lost productivity time and delays in goods getting to market.
IPC’s inspection equipment is the first of its kind in the industry. IPC’s robotic systems leverage nondestructive technology (NDT) protocols to in effect, see through concrete and other istructural members to identify early stage deterioration and then recommend repairs before deterioration spreads compromising the structures ability to carry its design loads. Proper diagnosis allows planning and repair of early stage deterioration which is financially preferable in that it prolongs infrastructure service life expectancy.