Using technology to plan the construction, operation and maintenance of bridges is not new. But as in so many other areas of engineering, construction and asset management, the industry has yet to take advantage of the latest technology or the big data that is available. In rapidly developing markets, a need to better manage infrastructure such as roads, tunnels, and bridges is changing the way they are managed. And one tool that is increasingly delivering seamless and integrated asset management is a Bridge Management System or BMS.
Connecting to the future with BMS
A bridge management system is a collection of data that assists users in making decisions. Having access to recent, relevant and contextual data for a structure’s condition helps users make the correct decision and select the most beneficial intervention. It will also help us develop truly intelligent infrastructure. As technology advances, systems improve, and costs reduce, BMS is playing a greater role in safely and effectively managing transport infrastructure. Bridges designed using Building Information Modelling (BIM) already utilise this in many of today’s BMS. The modern BMS also integrate other technologies such as high resolution imagery, mobile data capture and virtual reality/augmented reality.
Other emerging technologies suggest further efficiencies in BMS of the future. For example, using Internet of Things (IoT) technology, the tension of steel suspension cables or a corrosion ‘hotspot’ may be recorded via an in-built sensor. The data from these sensors can be collected and subsequently modelled in a graphical BIM display. This will eventually lead to real-time monitoring of structures, and further reduce the time it takes to discover and solve problems.
BMS in the Middle East
The rise in the number of bridges in the Gulf area serves as a useful indicator for the rapid development that has taken place in the region since 2006. Up until 1999, there were only about 40 operational bridges in Dubai. Since then, more than 400 new bridges have been constructed. In general, Abu Dhabi and Qatar have followed the same trend, with the latter undergoing a rapid expansion. However, until as recently as 2009, many Transport Authorities in the GCC struggled to cope with the maintenance and inspection of their structures, largely because their management systems were paper-based.
These traditional systems are time consuming and make it difficult to prioritise repair work or predict future maintenance budgets. Fortunately, thanks to technological advances, a modern BMS allows easier management of assets in a systematic and customised way, over the complete life cycle of a structure. The most important benefit of a modern BMS is its ability to optimise the limited budgets of road authorities. The system allows for more efficient planning of maintenance, repair and rehabilitation activities. By analysing the data tracked in a BMS, government offices can set spending limits; allocate work to a specific period; generate reports; or analyse repair costs for a specific component, whole bridge, or even network of bridges.
On top of this, a BMS can be extended to other assets, such as tunnels, pedestrian bridges, culverts, camel underpasses and more. Over the past few years, Aurecon has applied its experience as a leading global engineering and infrastructure advisory firm to develop highly advanced BMS for clients, enhancing existing software to create bespoke systems. Implementing a BMS can transform how asset management is conducted and one of the examples in Aurecon.
For instance, in one case, a government road authority was able to adjust its Principle Inspections (up-close visual inspections with use of traffic management and access equipment as necessary) timing so these were required only every five years. From there, five-year maintenance budgets were generated, allowing the authority
better oversight of its budget.
Tools of the trade
An effective BMS allows field staff to use mobile devices for inventory and inspection data collection. Allowing field data to be downloaded and uploaded via mobile devices minimises inspectors’ time in the office, reduces error, and allows faster identification of any potential safety concern. Aurecon’s extensive experience in
customising and implementing BMS in the GCC has allowed our engineers and asset managers to develop a suite of key understandings:
• Web-based is key – Using a web-based solution allows the user to access the BMS from any computer with internet access. Previously, desktop systems were based on Microsoft Windows platforms but this can be cumbersome to manage for IT departments. A web-based system allows better tailoring of security and system maintenance requirements, and maintenance of all asset management needs. The look and feel of a web-based system can be adapted and remains responsive under all operational scenarios.
• Separate systems for structural and electromechanical – As we incorporate new construction methods and materials, we are faced with unique challenges in the maintenance of both structural and electromechanical systems. The management of each should be handled separately, ideally by splitting them into two modules. Independent inventory, inspection and maintenance processes should be developed for both, then recombined to deliver a unified approach.
• System adaptability – Having a system that can adapt to new business requirements and operational improvements will ensure scalability and a better return on investment over a longer lifespan. This means the BMS should be developed through a total adaptive approach for all of its modules. At the end-user side, this will include the ability to edit forms and screens, making them easy to modify without the need for programming.
• Integration across multiple systems – Using multiple software systems is common in large government departments, so seamless integration between them is essential for correct contextual information and to avoid data duplication. Therefore, any BMS must be able to rapidly and safely integrate across multiple data resources.
• Enterprise change management – Although not a digital enhancement, the importance of incorporating enterprise change management into the implementation of a BMS should not be overlooked. Change management experts should first conduct stakeholder workshops using design-led thinking. A needs analysis can then identify skill gaps and the impact of the BMS on any business processes, and especially on other enterprise systems, such as Maximo, GIS and Abnormal Load systems. This process can drive the development of the BMS architecture to suit an organisation’s business functions.
Future needs drive developments
As our smart cities take shape across the globe and for the betterment of society it is essential that our infrastructure not only keep pace – but lead. BMS will be an influential part of our future infrastructure world that will deliver better performance and reliability for owners, operators, and users.