Researchers at the University of Melbourne are confident a new device will save millions of dollars in the construction and electrical distribution industry.
The smart timber monitor, a wireless remote monitoring device, can accurately measure decay and insect infestations in construction timber over vast distances, the university says in a statement.
The university says the monitor, which will eventually be able to fit into the palm of a hand, can be attached to timber beams, joists or power poles, where it monitors at predetermined intervals their structural integrity, moisture content, and – through an ingenious ‘listening device’ – the movement of termites and other wood-boring insects.
It says the new monitor is the brainchild of Dr. Berhan Ahmed, a senior research fellow at the University’s Department of Forest and Ecosystem Science and a 2009 Victorian of the Year, who has been developing the technology over the past four years with distinguished radar technology expert and associate professor Peter Farrell, and senior engineering lecturer, Dr. Graham Brodie.
Supported by IT technician Deepan Babu Thanigasalam and PhD student Ahmed El-Hadad, Ahmed recently completed successful field trials with hundreds of sensors reporting decay and insect damage on 40 power poles and 87 miniature model houses at a test site near Gove in Arnhem Land, which he describes as one of the most challenging environments for building in the country.
Ahmed believes the system, which delivers its findings in real-time through a dedicated online program, will provide significant savings in building inspections, transport and labour costs, and ultimately, in the amount of timber consumed by the construction and electrical industries.
“We have strong evidence that thousands of power poles are pulled down and discarded when they could still have several years of valuable service left in them,” Ahmed says. “By monitoring the health of the timber according to appropriate parameters for their specific environments, we can determine precisely when they will reach the end of their safe and useful service life.”
Outside of power poles, Ahmed says the device has residential building applications. Thanks to advances in online communications, he says, the monitor can deliver findings remotely in real time to a server which will send a warning directly to the mobile phone of a home owner, a building inspector, or an electrical company, identifying exactly where a problem is emerging.
This, Ahmed says, could prevent situations whereby a homeowner’s life savings is tied up in a property that – unbeknownst to them – is literally disintegrating around them.
David Hallett, Victorian State Manager for building design and inspection fiem Archicentre says the technology has exciting potential in domestic markets.
“If these remote sensors can reproduce the same levels of accuracy and reliability in urban settings as they have in simulated conditions, there’s no doubt they hold enormous promise for the building inspection trade,” he says.