Steel bridges, which are important fixtures of any nation’s infrastructure, are significantly prone to rusting. Most bridges experience corrosion over numerous years of their usage. Using Australia’s best example, the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge has had several sections affected by rust despite year-round maintenance, with re-painting beginning again as soon as it is finished.
Despite the pervasiveness of rusting on such important structures, inspecting for it can often be time consuming and expensive. In an effort to mitigate the difficulties associated with inspections and to bring about swifter damage detection, researchers in the University of Buffalo (UB) in USA have devised a new method for identifying corrosion sites.
The method uses electric shocks to gauge the integrity of the bridge cables. Corrosive damage would be indicated by a dampening of the signal strength of the shocks.
The technique was tested by Salvatore Salamone, assistant professor of civil engineering at UB, Tresor Mavinga, a UB senior civil engineering and mathematics major, and Alireza Farhidzadeh, a civil engineering graduate student through the use of piezoelectric transducers. These transducers can emit signals through the conversion of one form of energy into another and were tested on a wire.
Being attached to the ends of the wire, the transducers were used to estimate the received strength of a single volt of electricity that was passed through using ultrasonic waves. It was found that after the wire was immersed in sea water, the signal strength reduced dramatically from before the immersion due to corrosion, indicating that the technique could be used to simply and quickly detect rusting.
Practically, the method would only require engineers to attach sensors and transducers to bridge cables. Not only do they not have to be concerned with manual drilling to check for damage, staying on site for inspections would also not be necessary as being electric, the operations could be carried out off-site as well. Thus this tool offers a promising alternative to traditional, and at times inefficient, methods of rust detection.
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