Carry that weight

A US consortium plans to develop and demonstrate prototype sensor and analysis technologies for determining the condition and remaining life of large pieces of equipment and structures.

In the construction and transportation industries, countless steel and aluminium structures carry or bear heavy loads. But because of the variability of the load that these structures must bear, the structures themselves tend to be over-designed, expensive, and wasteful of resources.

To improve matters, a joint venture led by Caterpillar now plans a three-year project to develop and demonstrate prototype sensor and analysis technologies for determining, in real time, the condition and remaining functional life of large pieces of equipment and/or structures.

The development of the Structural Health Integrated Electronic Life Determination (SHIELD) system, funded in part by NIST, will consist of wireless sensors that could be attached to different parts of a structure to collect data continuously, and hardware and software that will analyse the data.

Aside from Caterpillar, other project participants are Motorola and Native American Technologies. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Drexel University will also serve as consultants on damage analysis calculations and structural health monitoring, respectively.

If successfully developed and deployed, the new SHIELD system could improve safety by predicting potential catastrophic failures, as well as allowing structural designs to be optimised and maintenance and repair costs to be reduced.