One of the exciting things about the world of technology is how advancements from one area spread into other sectors. A new company, Smart Tower, has done just that by parlaying improvements in Cloud computer technology, sensors and Big Data analysis into a new technology that monitors of tower structures.
Co-inventors and avowed tower guys, Mark Allen and Dave Brinker have developed a technology that gives new insights into the performance of the structures holding up cellular antennas.
“We have seen the need to get more out of existing structures,” Brinker said. “A lot of money and savings in time can be realized if you really know the response of the structures to wind events and earthquakes, whether you are adding more equipment to the structure, or you are concerned about the current loading or simply want to monitor the structural health.”
To do that, the Smart Tower System employs complex mathematics and hardware, including a suite of sensors and software that continuously and remotely monitor the performance of the structure and sends alerts if the displacement (movement) of the structure is outside of certain parameters. The sensors are hard wired to a ground control unit, which collects the data from the sensors involved and transmits it to the cloud where it can be downloaded remotely for processing.
“We wanted to know the displacement of the structure in an economical way, because that is a true indicator what the stresses are in the structure,” Brinker said. “On a remote basis, our system measures the lateral displacement and twist and sway of the structure continuously, which can be correlated with wind and earthquake events.”
Allen added, “The use of advanced, ultra-precise sensors and modern communications technology allows the generation of alerts when the structure senses extreme loading events or unexpected responses caused by extreme weather conditions, earthquakes, vandalism, slack guys, loose waveguide hardware, foundation settlements and more.”
Towers will oscillate in low wind speeds, as well as during storms. While seemingly innocuous, these vibrations can be destructive leading to cracks.
“This system will detect when these oscillations occur and alert the owner to inspect for possible cracks. To help solve that problem, the tower owner needs to know the frequency that causes that vibration,” Allen said.
Risk Mitigation and Reliability
Another plus to monitoring the tower structure is that insurers have said they will reduce premiums on towers that use the Smart Tower System, because it proactively reduces risk.
In the unlikely event of a tower collapse, the sensors can also act as a “black box,” providing a blow-by-blow record of the incident and what led up to it. The sensors will continue to record during the event, even if they become detached from the system. The sensors are then retrieved and the data from the last two minutes of the tower’s life can be analyzed by engineers.
“Admittedly, that is a pretty rare event, but if you are a tower owner that is being sued for a tower collapse, it will provide some finite data on what happened,” Allen said.
By monitoring a tower over an extended period of time, trends can be analyzed concerning displacement. For example, displacement in a 40 MPH wind in year one can be compared with the amount of movement in structure at the same wind speed five, 10, 15 years later. The knowledge gained from monitoring can inform the tower owner to the effects of aging on the structure. It may also allow the tower owner to increase the period of time between tower assessments, which saves money.
Possibly, in the future, knowledge that is gained from Smart Tower Systems may inform future tower manufacturing techniques, maybe even helping to guide tower-building standards.