Engineers Develop Bluetooth-Enabled Sensors to Detect Health of Military Bridges

Engineers based at the Telford, UK site of BAE Systems are testing an integrated Bluetooth and sensing technology which reports on the remaining service-life of military bridging systems. The new ‘fatigue monitoring’ technology continuously detects the stress and strain on bridges designed to be used by tanks such as the Challenger 2. The sensors then wirelessly transmit data to a handheld device, allowing soldiers to easily assess the health of the bridge.

Without the use of an automated fatigue monitoring system, the remaining service life of rapidly deployable military bridges is based on manual records and is difficult to judge, resulting in bridges being retired early or overused. The new technology uses a series of sensors fitted to the bridge components which undergo the most strain and records around a hundred strain readings per second to monitor. A computer-analysis then gives a component-by-component overview of bridge health. BAE Systems’ use of fatigue monitoring technology gives military engineers the peace of mind that their bridges remain healthy, even on extended military campaigns where bridges can remain in place for many months. 

According to the research team, the biggest obstacle to monitoring bridge health is achieving a continuous flow of accurate data to tell what the bridge is experiencing. Simply monitoring the number of crossings – as most military users do now – doesn’t give an accurate picture. The new solution monitors and analyzes all of these variables to give a real-time, accurate assessment of bridge condition. It will make it easier to use bridges in civilian situations such as disaster relief, where keeping accurate data on crossings is very difficult. It will also reduce whole-life ownership cost by ensuring bridges are serviced only when required and that they can confidently be used for their entire service life.

BAE Systems designed and manufactured the British Army’s rapidly deployable military bridging system - BR90 in the 1990s. It comprises 74 bridging systems and can be used in a variety of configurations, adding up to a total of 8.5 km of bridge trackway, and provides the most rapidly deployed and flexible gap crossing capability in the world. Another variant of the bridge can be used to span gaps greater than 60 m.

The system is being tested by BAE Systems’ 50-strong specialist military bridging team based in Telford, UK, who also operate Europe’s most advanced Bridge Test Facility. The Facility simulates thousands of bridge crossings by a variety of wheeled and tracked vehicles, allowing BAE Systems to assess bridge performance using comprehensive data records on how the various components perform. The specialist team is now developing and testing a next generation Modular Bridging System to be even more agile and reliable.