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Sensors Innovation For Crossrail

30 October 2014

Costain is using innovative, cutting edge technology to monitor movement during the construction of 35m-deep ventilation and access shafts for Crossrail.

Twenty-nine tiny Utterberry wireless sensors are now in place at the Costain Skanska JV Crossrail contract at Mile End Park and Eleanor Street. They provide online and real-time structural displacement monitoring and, because they work remotely, no one need enter a potentially unsafe environment to keep them running.

The sensor, which has been shortlisted for several awards, is the work of Cambridge University PhD student Heba Bevan. “The Utterberry has a number of attributes,” she says, “but the one that makes it stand out is its size. It’s about the size and weight of two £1 coins put together, which means it compares favourably to current sensors which are around the size of a box of teabags and about as heavy as a bag of sugar.

“It is so small and light it is easy to carry as well as install, and needs only one person to do this rather than a team of people.”

For Costain, the sensors were the ideal solution to a tricky problem. Explained Nigel Marsh, Senior Surveyor: “Lack of access on the surface meant we first had to build a temporary shaft complete with adits before we could construct the permanent shaft. However this temporary shaft was above a rail tunnel that was being built. As the TBM (tunnel boring machine) went through the tunnel, it closed off our access to the adits above, so we needed to find a way to check remotely on any structural displacement in the adits.”

Costain is strategic research partner at Cambridge University Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction where Nigel discovered Utterberry after attending a training course earlier this year. “Once I’d seen it in action at a trial in a tunnel underneath Liverpool Street Station in London, I knew it was exactly what we needed. Not only is it 100 per cent remote but it uses almost no power, is very robust, highly accurate and is cheaper than both the traditional alternatives and newer technologies such as fibre-optics.”

Nigel says using the Utterberry puts Costain at the cutting edge of innovative practice. “I believe it is the first time the device has been used in this type of environment. The results are proving very interesting – it even picks up sub-millimetre movements when the de-watering system is switched on and off as we re-route pipes during shaft construction.  There’s no doubt it could be used in many different applications in the construction industry.”

Tim Embley, Group Innovation & Knowledge Manager, added: “This is a clear demonstration of Engineering Tomorrow, our corporate strategy in action.  Our significant research capability is allowing us to accelerate new services to our customers.  Training our team in the latest innovations equips them with the skills and knowledge to implement successfully.”




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