Expanding your international network

In the autumn I had the pleasure of participating in the 10th international bridge conference, ISCBOC in Nantong in China, along with some of my colleagues from Sund & Bælt. We met other bridge owners and operators and exchanged experiences and know-how in the midst of some of the world’s largest suspension and cable-stayed bridges.

Sund & Bælt took part in the conference because we are in the process of a technology leap that will lead to more efficient and intelligent operations of, among others, the Storebælt Bridge. Our objective is to digitalise operations using drones, robots and sensors. We also aim to deploy artificial intelligence to deliver savings on operations but without this impacting on the quality and accessibility experienced by the bridge’s many users. Indeed, we are keen to share all this with our bridge colleagues and, at the same time, become more informed by learning from the experiences of others.

Fresh inspiration
We gave a number of presentations at the conference. Technical Director, Lars Fuhr Pedersen, gave a keynote speech on Sund & Bælt’s current digital journey.

Lars Fuhr Pedersen opened the conference with a keynote speech in which he informed colleagues about Sund & Bælt’s digital journey

In addition, we gave a presentation on replacing the bridge bearings, the renovation of the hydraulic dampers, the potential of robots in operation and maintenance, the use of Big Data in asset management systems and data analysis using artificial intelligence. All presentations were based on our own projects and experience.

The bridge is the world’s longest cable-stayed bridge with a span of 1,088 metres and a pylon height of 300.4 metres.

During the conference, we also had the opportunity to participate in a technical excursion to Sutong Bridge. We were given a guided tour and saw how they operate and maintain this huge structure.

These two images show a physical model of the Sutong bridge, which we visited as part of our tour of the actual bridge.

After a technical excursion to the Sutong Bridge, we noted that many other bridge owners – like us – employ robot technology. We also noted that in terms of the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI), we are at the forefront of developments.

International interest in digitisation

Following our presentations, many international players showed great interest in our digitalisation development work e.g. Total Cost Ownership (TCO). This is an area that looks at the economics of a building or infrastructure system from planning to operation and maintenance, i.e. over the lifetime of the asset. Our way of looking at the economics of a project aroused significant interest among colleagues.

As a result, we have been contacted by a Korean bridge operator who has expressed a keen interest in exchanging experiences of development work and digitalisation.

This is just one of the reasons why we attended the international bridge conference. It has given us the opportunity to meet colleagues from other countries and discuss the challenges that we face – which are often similar – and learn from each other about running our infrastructure more efficiently.

New project ahead

The conference confirmed our view that our digital journey is the way forward for optimising our operation and maintenance.

We saw – and heard about – many exciting initiatives, including Weigh-in-Motion (WiM) technology.

The system, which has already been implemented on the cable-stayed bridge, Queensferry Crossing in Scotland, detects the weight of vehicles as they cross a measuring point. The measuring point is fitted with pressure sensors in the asphalt. Unlike static weights, WiM can measure vehicles that drive at slightly reduced or normal speeds. In other words, WiM technology works without the vehicle having to stop to be weighed, which makes the weighing process more efficient.

For us at Sund & Bælt, such a system is interesting in two respects:

  1. Heavy vehicles are a major contributor to wear and tear on our roads and installations. This means that in terms of the short and long-term planning of our Asset Management, we need to know more about this category of vehicle. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to know and predict the number of heavy vehicles because no valid data is available. By implementing WiM, we can automatically collect data on the size and number of heavy vehicles. We can use this data for planning future operations and maintenance and thereby reduce resource consumption and operating costs.
  2. The Storebælt Bridge is a user-financed facility. As heavy vehicles are the major contributor to wear and tear, the charges for crossing the bridge are higher for this category. Typically, it costs five times as much for heavy vehicles above 100 tonnes compared to standard light vehicles. Moreover, vehicles above 100 tonnes are only permitted to cross the bridge after 22.00 hrs and drivers must provide information about the weight of the vehicle they are driving.

WiM has great potential in that it can be combined with Automatic Number Plate Recognition, which is used as a means of payment at the Storebælt Bridge. This means that we have the possibility of obtaining a vehicle’s details and possibly holding back vehicles that have not disclosed their actual weight. The system would also enable us to automatically collect the correct fee for crossing the bridge.

Following the conference in China, we have continued to investigate the market for WiM solutions and are convinced that WiM would be a good solution for us. Consequently, the conference has made us more confident in our strategy and our direction towards digitalised Asset Management.

Did you know that…

  • The first International Suspension Bridge Operators Conference (ISBOC) was held in New York, USA in 1991
  • Topics at the conferences were initially limited to suspension bridges, but the challenges in relation to the operation and maintenance of suspension bridges correspond to other types of cable bridges. Consequently, the conference changed its name when, in 2004, Denmark hosted the fourth conference – International Cable Supported Bridge Operators Conference ICSBOC
  • The conference is only for bridge owners and operators. This means that all presentations and discussions are held without the influence of commercial interests.
  • Following the conference in Copenhagen, it was decided to hold smaller workshops between the conferences.
  • The organisation has its own website icsboa.com, which is maintained by Sund & Bælt. More information about ICSBOA is available here.

The next ICSBOC conference will be held in 2020 in California.

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