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Challenges to Successful Implementation of Structural Health Monitoring

Structural Health Monitoring (SHM) is continually gaining traction in the civil engineering world as an approach to obtain actionable and quantitative information about a structure over time. Unfortunately, there are many impediments to SHM becoming an accessible tool for bridge owners, including lack of a common definition and vocabulary as well as detrimental preconceptions about the efficacy, reliability and return on investment. However, for SHM to succeed and benefit owners, an even more basic, fundamental assumption about SHM must be overcome. SHM is not a traditional engineering service. Unlike bridge design, which is both quantifiable in advance (independent of contracting mechanisms and unforeseen issues) and a clear requirement in every new construction project, SHM is a value-driven option which may not be relevant or beneficial for every project. This paradox penetrates to bridge management as well, where there is little motivation for an owner to invest in SHM or other technology-driven applications because replacement and retrofit are subsidized by the Federal Government when condition appears to warrant intervention. This paper will address how the approach to and understanding of SHM can be altered to achieve more successful and valuable efforts. The following recommendations are put forth to facilitate successful SHM projects moving forward: 1) Prior to any design or installation, the bridge must be conceptualized with respect to use cases failure modes. 2) SHM should be designed and assessed from a Life-cycle Cost Analysis approach, as opposed to a low-bid approach. 3) The requirements for SHM systems should stem from those who have a stake in the performance of the bridge, as opposed to those who are motivated by minimizing construction costs.

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