From measuring flow using a bucket, to capturing data in the cloud
How monitoring has evolved, and where it’s heading
As the requirement for monitoring structures, highways, rail infrastructure, dams, ports, mines and other assets has increased and projects have become more complex, monitoring instrumentation and data management software has become more sophisticated to meet changing project requirements.
From the time consuming, human-error laden era of handheld instrumentation and handwritten data points, to cloud-based automatic data collection, management and analysis, Sheridan Elliott – ITM’s Data Acquisition & System Integration Manager – was recently invited to speak at the Internet of Things Thames Valley Meetup, where he provided an overview of how instrumentation and monitoring data management systems have evolved over time. He also touched on a few predictions for the future, which we thought we’d share…
Sensors in the good old days!
In the past, sensors were very primitive. Readouts were all handheld and site technicians were required to travel across the country to take measurements manually, which was incredibly labour intensive. To measure flow, for example, your specialist equipment would be a bucket! You’d have a known volume and the technician would record how long it takes to fill that bucket, writing the measurements down.
Inclinometers, used to measure deformation of an embankment, whilst a little more sophisticated than a flow jug, still required a lot of hardware, and all measurements still had to be handwritten.
Preparation of borehole inclination/deviation measurement 1980s
Graph paper is a thing of the past
Data was collected using a readout unit, with site technicians travelling to site to plug an inclinometer in, for example, writing down every single data point at half meter intervals – and some of these inclinometers could be over 50m deep, so we’re talking a lot of data points! The site technician would then be required to travel back to the office to plot these data points manually on graph paper.
Over the past 10 years, we have moved to using silicon-based products and MEMS (Micro Electrical Mechanical Systems), as well as wireless sensors. Below is the new version of the inclinometer shown above. Whilst the instrument is still required to be installed on site, by inserting the probe into a bore hole, all data readings are transmitted cable-free via Bluetooth communication to a rugged field tablet and stored in the cloud. When the technician returns to the office, reports are automatically generated and emailed out to the client.
Vertical digital inclinometer with field tablet
Data visualisation supports vital decision making
Early data visualisation packages were DOS based, moving on to Windows based a year or so later. Your PC had to be in the same location as your data, so if there were any issues and you wanted to view your data, it meant a site visit. Now, data is all cloud based, so clients can log in at any time, on any connected device, from anywhere in the world.
We developed Calyx Online Monitoring Software™ to offer a user-friendly graphical interface, which allows quick and easy interpretation of large amounts of instrumentation data from multiple sources. This web-based software package can be fully configured to suit specific user and job requirements and can be deployed on virtually any project, regardless of scale.
With Calyx OMS™, the type of monitoring data recorded and the way it is delivered is highly flexible. Accessible 24/7, it provides continual monitoring of site conditions, offering status updates and reassurance to clients wherever they choose to view the data. Sensor-specific thresholds can be defined which enable Calyx OMS™ to issue SMS and email action alerts to those who need them.
Data provided through Calyx is vital to decision making throughout a monitoring campaign, so ensuring that this data is presented clearly and is constantly accessible is paramount to successful site projects. As Calyx is browser based, it can be accessible from any location with an internet connection and the simple and clear project specific dashboard provides a summary of site conditions at a glance. Data may also be made available for use with other applications, such as asset management platforms.
Sensing the future – predictions for the next 5 years
Instrumentation and data management software has come a long way but, it is constantly evolving to meet the ever-changing requirements of projects and clients. Even in the next five years, we are likely to see some, if not all, of the following…
- Will become more intelligent and connected at the network edge, being able to communicate with each other as a cluster so that they can adapt if one experiences movement. Clients don’t want to process large volumes of data unnecessarily, so if a sensor is in place for 10 years and experiences little activity, reading intervals could be increased. If something changed around a parameter, the sensors would re-programme these reading intervals accordingly.
- Will be capable of remote firmware upgrades, as more sensors get connected to the network via Wifi, Cellular or through wireless protocols. With the wireless sensors we use currently, we have to go to site to do these upgrades.
- Improved data security will be required as more devices become interconnected. To reduce the ability of hackers to access data gathered on large high-profile infrastructure projects, security will form a core part of the next generation of sensors.
- As new buildings are constructed, they’ll have sensors built into them which integrate into the building management system, moving towards the creation of smart buildings within smart cities.
- Currently, dataloggers are housed in fairly large enclosures, so they can be quite a big piece of kit. As sensors become more connected, there will be less requirement for data hubs and gateways because the sensors will communicate with each other. Cloud-based recorders will also become increasingly popular, enabling greater data sharing between devices and systems.
- Analytics will become even more sophisticated, giving greater insight into the behaviour of assets, allowing us to better predict how buildings, for example, could deform in the future.
- The way data is visualised will also develop, with virtual augmented reality becoming more common. If a structure is moving, a client will be able to watch how it’s moved via a live 3D model. For example, if your tunnel is deforming, you’ll be able to put on a headset and look down the tunnel, seeing how it’s deformed in 3D without physically having to be there. You’ll be able to see what effect that might have on the running of a train, for example.
- BIM (Building Information Modelling) is being used more and more in infrastructure design and the construction process but, the geotechnical aspects are still often overlooked. Geotechnical data is likely to become more included in the BIM model, helping to ensure that the geotechnical and structural teams are fully integrated and aiding vital decision making.
Sheridan’s presentation can be viewed here.
If you have a monitoring requirement to discuss, contact our team on +44 (0) 1825 701801 or firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re always happy to share our expertise