Automated manufacturing of smart concrete components

Academic Institution: University of Strathclyde

Academic Supervisor: Dr Marcus Perry

Industry Partner: COWI / Highways England

PhD Student: TBC

Start Date: TBC

Abstract

This 4 year PhD project between the University of Strathclyde, COWI and Highways England will demonstrate the automated integration of sensors into precast concrete construction elements. Wireless electronic- and skin- sensors will be embedded and surface mounted onto concrete elements using robotics, during off-site manufacturing on a lab-scale production line.

These smart concrete elements will automatically set up ad-hoc, self-repairing wireless networks with neighbouring smart elements. This could support the seamless tracking of elements’ locations, loads and performance throughout storage, transport, construction and utilisation. Unlike manually retrofitted sensors, automatic sensor deployment during manufacturing reduces installation errors and construction project delays.

Our approach forms new, distinct UK capabilities in construction manufacturing that have a high global demand. Concrete is the most utilised material in construction, and today, asset managers worldwide are struggling to optimise the maintenance of their growing, ageing concrete population. This is causing infrastructure systems to break down more frequently, for longer, and cost more time and money to recover. This challenge can be addressed by intelligently scheduling maintenance, and by validating and improving structural design, but this demands real-time performance monitoring. Sensors themselves are affordable, but their use in construction is uncommon because sensor installation and data management campaigns pose significant labour costs and risks to productivity. We seek to eliminate these risks and make smart, resilient structures the new norm by innovating the off-site manufacturing process.

This project’s outcomes are:

  • proof-of-concept demonstrations of the robotic installation of wireless sensors into and onto precast concrete elements;

  • assessments of process quality, via the performance and robustness of smart elements during accelerated ageing;

  • demonstrations of ad-hoc wireless networks between multiple smart elements, producing cloud data of live loads / risk ratings;

  • business case and impacts reports which outline pathways for commercial implementation, and impacts on/from precast manufacturer supply chains.

SRPe