Defining the decade: Future innovations to transform the industry
A new decade brings endless, exciting possibilities for the development of our entire industry. Which technologies will rise to prominence? What type of projects will become more readily available?
To answer these questions and more, we have highlighted the three trends that we believe will define the next 10 years of the bridge and complex structures industry, below.
Technology is one of the main drivers of innovation in the bridge industry, helping to improve the quality, appearance and safety of projects – both big and small.
Phil Bailey, Chief Technical Officer at Cleveland Bridge Group, believes that the wide-spread use of 3D modelling and augmented reality is the next technological step forward, “With 3D modelling, companies can generate digital representations of steel bridges and structures, complete with details of arrangements and fabrication. Then, when this technology is combined with augmented reality, engineers can overlay a 3D model of a bridge design onto a real application site and measure performance in context-relevant situations.”
It’s not just digital technologies that bode well for the future, either. Over the next 10 years, there will be a renewed focus on lightweight materials for smaller structures, such as GRP (Glass Reinforced Plastic) and FRP (Fibre Reinforced Polymer). They are easy to man-handle, can be installed without use of expensive, heavy machinery and have a minimised impact on the environment.
Maintenance and rehabilitation
As we move into the twenties, many important bridges built in the 20th century are reaching the end of their service lifespan. However, the outright replacing of all of these structures would be impractical and massively expensive – the number is too great!
Instead, much of the work must be on developing smart techniques for bridge inspection, maintenance and rehabilitation to further extend their lifespan. In this respect, technology yet again shows its value to the industry.
By installing sensors on ageing structures, for example, engineers can gain access to real-time constant data on the bridge’s health – without spending money on intermittent physical inspections. With these up-to-date insights, there would be a greater understanding of a bridge’s condition, which can then be used to inform preventative maintenance strategies. Cleveland Bridge Group have witnessed the effectiveness of these proactive maintenance techniques first-hand.
To prevent corrosion and extend the lifespan of its bridge cables, an innovative dehumidification system was installed on the Humber Bridge in 2010. Prior inspections had identified corrosion as a potential problem for the future, but, rather than wait for the issue to get worse, the Humber Bridge board were proactive. Our recent inspection in 2019 confirmed the system’s effectiveness and its ability to save millions of pounds further down the line.
While technological advances and rehabilitation projects will dominate the decade’s trends, companies can innovate by simply reassessing established industry practices. Specifically, the way that contractors and sub-contractors collaborate on projects.
Phil Bailey, Chief Technical Officer at Cleveland Bridge Group, identifies the issue with current practices, “a sub-contractor will price up their work on a project, before any designs have been agreed. The likelihood is that, as a result, the price scheme and design will not match up. This means that the sub-contractor will need to amend their price, costing time and money.”
Project collaboration, and early collaboration in particular, streamlines this whole process. By including a sub-contractor, such as Cleveland Bridge Group, in the design process, drawings could be easily amended to suit price – and vice versa. Contractors would avoid any costly back and forth in the early stages of a project, increasing buildability and cost-effectiveness.
Whether through technology, rehabilitation techniques or collaboration, at Cleveland Bridge Group, we are very excited to lead the industry through a decade of positive changes and development.