By Sarah MacNamara, Journalist,Infrastructure Magazine

Public infrastructure and assets such as roads, water supply systems and wastewater treatment are essential services, which is why asset monitoring is such an important domain within the infrastructure industry. Advancements in technology have led to modernised asset monitoring systems and innovative strategies to manage assets, from intelligent traffic monitoring to remote operating vehicles. Here, we take a look at some of the latest technologies that are improving infrastructure asset management around the country.

In addition to the benefits for communities, asset monitoring can save time and money as well as improve worker safety, so it is a great business practice all-round. The latest technologies when it comes to asset management not only save time and money, but they are often able to remedy key challenges and transform asset management strategies from a reactive to a proactive approach.

Intelligent asset monitoring is successfully being used more and more because of the benefits it provides to communities who access public infrastructure and the companies and councils who maintain that infrastructure.

Smart traffic monitoring

In 2022, intelligent traffic monitoring systems such as Bluetooth sensors and cameras were installed on some of Canberra’s main roads to manage the traffic network during the Raising London Circuit road project, which majorly impacted traffic conditions in the state.

Around 40 Bluetooth sensors and 30 new cameras were installed to allow real time monitoring of the traffic to be able to provide live updates to motorists and public transport users. The investment in smart technology means that motorists are able to be notified of delays and disruptions during the construction period, with live signage conveying the best route to take around the city.

The improved surveillance also enables a faster response to road events such as accidents or congestion. The Raising London Circuit project is still in progress and the smart technology continues to enable the ACT Government to monitor traffic and provide motorists with live updates, which will allow continued asset monitoring in the future, and will benefit motorists long after construction is complete.

Remote operating vehicles

The Central Coast Council in New South Wales engaged robot technology as an innovative solution to maintain its water supply system and keep its workers safe. The Mangrove Creek Dam, which provides approximately 98 per cent of the region’s water storage, required an inspection to complete a condition assessment following extreme rainfall in 2022.

Before this could take place, the diversion tunnel had to be isolated and drained, however an unexpected rise in the dam level meant that a diver was unable to complete the work as planned due to high risk. The only other feasible option was lowering a remote operating vehicle (ROV) to undertake the work.

Utilising the ROV entailed the following key steps to ensure the tunnel isolation and inspection would work:

1. An off-site trial, which proved to be the key to the project’s success as a number of equipment modifications were required be made prior to a trial run onsite

2. An on-site trial within the Intake Tower, which demonstrated that the ROV was capable of reaching and then opening and closing the valve prior to any works commencing, and also identified site constraints which allowed further improvements to the methodology to be made

3. Inspection of the tunnel bulkhead frame before the bulkhead was inserted ensured it would seal and allow draining of the tunnel for subsequent inspection

4. After completion of the works, including physical inspection by a team of professionals, the ROV returned to site and was lowered into the intake tower and driven to the intake shaft to open the valve, allowing the dam water to fill the tunnel via the filler pipeline

The project was a great success, and the dam was returned to service within a month of when the isolation commenced with the assistance of the ROV.

Drones monitoring water quality

In South Australia, SA Water trialled using drones to monitor its water quality in 2023 to ensure safe, clean drinking water could be provided across the state. The trial used drones to collect water samples from Happy Valley Reservoir.

Collecting water samples from large, open bodies of water can be logistically complex, time-consuming and costly, and this is compounded further in situations such as floods, where it is even more difficult to safely and efficiently collect samples.

Using a drone speeds up and streamlines the collection process, whilst having the added benefit of reducing the risks associated with on-water operations. It also mitigates the safety risks that are associated with traditional water sampling, such as unstable riverbank or strong water current.

The drones used were able to collect a single two litre water sample or four individual 250mL samples depending on what was required.

The speed in which water monitoring can be carried out when using drones means that SA Water can focus on any changes to water quality and adapt and respond quickly. Due to the success of such trials, SA Water continues to use drones to monitor its water assets, with the number of flights and amount of time drones are flown increasing each year.

Remote monitoring

Shoalhaven Water has developed a robust LoRaWAN architecture to remotely monitor its assets, including a network of over 15 gateways covering an expansive area, as well as back-end data flows that include cloud access data analysis tools such as Grafana and SCADA integration for real-time alarming.

One area that Shoalhaven Water employs this remote technology is in the management of events in the sewer network caused by blockages. Overflow in certain areas can lead to mandatory shutdown for up to three weeks, or breaches in environmental regulations.

Shoalhaven Water hung a float switch that connects to a LoRaWAN device to manholes of concern, which allowed the data to be relayed through a special antenna through the manhole’s concrete lid. The water level in the manhole reaching the float switch indicates that there may be a blockage, at which point an attendant is notified for further investigation.

At approximately $350 per site, this monitoring method is both simple and cost-effective. The remote monitoring solution allows Shoalhaven Water to take a preventive, rather than reactive, approach to overflow management.

An additional benefit to this approach is the capability to network interactions between assets along the line, building a holistic understanding of wastewater collection. Shoalhaven Water continues to use LoRaWAN technology to remotely monitor its assets in a simple and economical manner.

The future of asset monitoring

Ensuring vital infrastructure runs smoothly requires continuous monitoring, inspection, repair and maintenance. Innovative methods of asset monitoring that take advantage of new technologies continue to improve efficiency and transform asset monitoring to a proactive approach that reduces associated costs.

As technology continues to advance, so too will asset management technologies, and this can only serve as a benefit for the monitoring and maintenance of public infrastructure and assets.

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