Remote imaging system will spot bridge corrosion from 100m away

Scientists are developing technology capable of detecting the level of rust on metal structures such as bridges from up to 100m away.

Remote simultaneous 3D and spectral imaging will provide direct identification of surface rust and corrosion
Professor Haida Liang, Nottingham Trent University

Scientists are developing technology capable of detecting the level of rust on metal structures such as bridges from up to 100m away.

The project, involving Nottingham Trent University and global infrastructure consultancy Opus International Consultants, could save tens of millions of pounds a year in surveying costs and remove the need for potentially dangerous inspections.

It will help to inform crucial decisions about when to repair or decommission structures including bridges, footbridges, pylons, culverts, station canopies, roof structures and tunnel linings.

The three-year project involves the creation of a remote imaging system which simultaneously performs both 3D and spectral imaging, providing important information about the physical and chemical characteristics of the structure.

The "RustScan" instrument and accompanying "RustDetect" software – which will be used via hand-held or tripod-mounted cameras or even drones – will be able to generate detailed data regarding surface blistering and corrosion.

The tools will have widespread application for all structures where metal is an integral part of their construction, particularly where safety is paramount and failure would be catastrophic.

The information will help to build up a 3D model of the structure’s condition, which will be used to identify areas requiring immediate attention, maintenance programmes and lifespan modelling.

Surveying and monitoring of steel structures such as bridges is an extremely laborious process, with inspections frequently requiring people to scale or access hard-to-reach places, which can be time-consuming, expensive and dangerous.

Many bridges in the UK date back to the Victorian era and require careful management.

The project builds on previous Nottingham Trent University research, which resulted in the development of a remote spectral imaging system for the examination of large-scale wall paintings, revealing the composition and degradation of paints that were used, as well as hidden details not visible to the naked eye.

Red ochre, a natural earth pigment used to make paint, is made up of the same chemical ingredient as rust - iron oxide.

"There is currently no technology that combines 3D and spectral imaging in one instrument in this way," said Professor Haida Liang, Head of the Imaging & Sensing for Archaeology, Art History & Conservation research group at Nottingham Trent University.

Professor Liang, who is based in the University’s School of Science and Technology, added: "It is fascinating to see that an instrument previously funded for the protection and understanding of historic wall paintings will now make an impact on this industry.

"Remote simultaneous 3D and spectral imaging will provide direct identification of surface rust and corrosion. The technology will also be able to provide a time-specific record of the condition of the bridge for future comparison with later scans, in addition to assisting in the development of an appropriate maintenance programme for the bridge."

This research is part of Opus International Consultants' global initiative to work with technical and academic experts to deliver better engineering solutions for future generations.

James Hulme, part of Opus International Consultants' UK Leadership Team, said: "We are extremely excited about this new work, which could provide a major industry impact for years to come. Our clients continually look to us for planning, design, maintenance and management of structures such as bridges, viaducts and pylons. We are always looking for new technologies which offer cost-effective solutions to safely defer expensive upgrades or replacements that may not actually be required.

"Industry is keen to make more of what already exists rather than keep building new structures, which can impact upon the environment, health, safety and budgets. Surveying of bridges is currently an extremely laborious process and much of it is carried out manually. We need technology that circumvents the need for people putting themselves in these potentially dangerous positions.

"This is another exciting development for Opus, which has just been named Company of the Year at the prestigious NCE100 Awards, based on our cultures, competencies and skillsets."

The £500,000 project is being jointly funded by Innovate UK and Opus International Consultants. It is a Knowledge Transfer Partnership, a scheme which helps businesses to innovate and grow by linking them with a university and graduate to work on a specific project.

  • Notes for editors

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    Nottingham Trent University's five-year strategic plan Creating the University of the Future has five main ambitions: Creating Opportunity, Valuing Ideas, Enriching Society, Connecting Globally, and Empowering People.

    The Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education was awarded to Nottingham Trent University in November 2015. It is the highest national honour for a UK university and recognises the institution’s world-class research. Pioneering projects to improve weapons and explosives detection in luggage, enable safer production of powdered infant formula, and combat food fraud, led to the prestigious award.

    Opus is a leading global multidisciplinary consultancy providing specialist advice and project management across a wide range of service sectors. The main areas of work include highway asset development and maintenance, rail engineering, structural design, infrastructure development and asset management, water management, and environmental planning.

    Opus employs over 500 staff in the UK, and over 3,000 globally, with offices in New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United States. The UK team grew by over 130 staff in 2012 following the award of a long-term asset management contract with Hertfordshire County Council. This was a major success - one of the largest in the company’s history. This year, Opus was named Company of the Year at the prestigious NCE100 Awards based on its cultures, competencies and skillsets, making it the number one civil engineering company in the UK.

Remote imaging system will spot bridge corrosion from 100m away

Published on 3 June 2016
  • Category: Press office; Research; School of Science and Technology

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