The Importance of Structural Building Monitoring

Structural failure can lead to severe damage, which will cause loss of lives, economic costs, and disruption. Regular monitoring helps prevent structural failure, reduce maintenance costs, and extend the life of infrastructure.

SHM involves recording over time (permanently or periodically, in the short or long term) parameters that best reflect structural behavior and transforming these data into useful information through diagnostic processes.

Prevents Damage

Structural monitoring building systems provide real-time feedback to prevent damage, improve performance and extend the service life of structures. These sensors can be installed in buildings, engineered structures, and civil engineering infrastructure such as bridges, tunnels, water, gas, oil pipelines, and roads. These sensors can also be used to monitor the movement of historic monuments or the vibration and stresses in a bridge girder or foundation structure. Vibration-based structural monitoring techniques enable damage identification and prediction. These methods are non-destructive and allow for the assessment of structural conditions without needing a full inspection. They can also be incorporated into a system to predict the remaining service life of a structure and guide maintenance planning.

Many existing infrastructures are close to or at the end of their design service life, and they can suffer from damage if not properly maintained. Aging, material degradation, environmental loads, seismic events, or construction errors can cause these damage events. 

Predicts Failure

Structural health monitoring can detect damages before they become serious enough to impact the integrity of structures. This makes it possible to replace schedule-driven maintenance with condition-based maintenance that only requires action when damage is detected. It also allows for the use of less materials and lower operating costs.

In the case of historic cultural heritage structures, SHM can provide an effective conservation tool. Using advanced sensor technology, it can detect and evaluate the damage to a building. It can also monitor changes in inclination and deformation. This is particularly important for mass timber construction systems, which are relatively new and have yet to be extensively tested in terms of long-term performance.

The type of monitoring that can be carried out depends on the structure and its environment. For example, it can monitor physical damage such as dilatations, corrosion, molds, or chemical damage caused by living organisms (oxidation, efflorescence, fungus). It can also be used for global monitoring of large structures. However, this requires a trade-off between the area covered by each sensor and the sensitivity required to detect localized damage reliably.

Reduces Costs

Structural monitoring enables the detection of performance degradation and warning signals on structures to help save lives, protect nature and property and extend the lifetime of aging infrastructure. It also reduces insurance and maintenance costs by enabling the detection of damage at an early stage and enables rational management strategies to be developed.

Structural damage can be monitored using different sensors, depending on the purpose and structure to be assessed. Displacement sensors (fissurometers) allow precise monitoring of displacement (heave or settlement) at several locations in a structure, while strain gauges can detect changes in material behavior.

Other sensors can monitor physicochemical damage such as dilatations, corrosion, or molds. These monitoring solutions can also be used to track the development of a specific defect identified in non-destructive testing or from an inspection report. A monitoring plan can be implemented on large-scale construction projects to ensure that the integrity of the structural system is not compromised during work and to provide feedback for future design decisions.

Ensures Safety

Structural monitoring is a highly effective way to avoid structural failures and accidents that can cause much damage. By continuously observing the structure with geotechnical sensors, it is possible to detect early warning signs and act quickly to reduce the risk of sudden failures. This leads to a safer construction site and reduced damage to surrounding areas and assets.

SHM is also useful for detecting mechanical damage caused by earthquakes, unpredictable events, or normal use of the structure. For example, SHM can monitor vibrations in buildings, bridges, and dams to identify structural problems that may lead to structural failure.

In addition, SHM is an ideal tool for evaluating the performance of concrete and steel structures during construction. For example, a high-rise building can be monitored during construction to detect any changes in deformation and inclination.