With SenrigaN, Konica Minolta is developing a technology that applies magnetic field sensors and artificial intelligence (AI) to detect hidden material breakages in bridges and other infrastructure elements cost-efficiently, quickly and reliably.
Creating and sustaining an adequate and safe infrastructure meeting a future population’s needs is one of the most important – and most costly – challenges societies around the globe are facing. In an extensive report for the G20 initiative Global Infrastructure Hub, analysts at Oxford Economics forecast an enormous worldwide investment need of USD 94 trillion by 2040. While existing infrastructure set-up conditions as well as predicted needs vary across the globe, an unsettling overall spending gap is becoming apparent: if current investment levels are maintained, the expected investments will significantly fall short of the forecast needs in all regions of the world. In Europe, the report estimates a gap of 16%, or approximately USD 2 trillion over the next two decades or so.
Building new infrastructure is one part of this long-term challenge – maintaining the existing one is the other. This is particularly true for Europe: with its mature economies, a significant part of the continent’s infrastructure is decades- if not centuries-old. Sustaining it is a costly endeavour – and a crucial one to ensure the safety and reliability of the structures. The efficiency and reliability of this process are therefore absolutely paramount. Pursuing its goal of value creation for society, Konica Minolta is developing a non-destructive inspection technology that helps to quickly, cost-efficiently and reliably examine bridges and other infrastructure elements.
Simplifying and accelerating infrastructure inspection
The proper maintenance and management of infrastructure assets to ensure secure long-term usage is therefore becoming a major topic. When bridges or roads exceed their lifespan and begin to fail, repairing or replacing them is very time- and capital-intensive and bears high safety risks. At the very least, operators will need to reduce the capacity of these buildings. Hence, early detection is absolutely valuable, making it possible to repair damage before it causes bigger problems. For this, being able to evaluate the status of the latter in a dependable, secure, non-destructive and cost-efficient way is crucial. The main challenge here is to be able to reliably find and detect hidden breakages and corrosion within the metal structural components without having to take the structure apart or drilling into it. Today, when it comes to non-destructive inspection methods, two approaches are currently used: X-rays or strong magnetic fields are two examples of how this issue can be tackled. However, these procedures are rather complex, require specifically trained professionals for execution and data outcome interpretation and can create safety issues themselves. Specific precautionary measures are needed to ensure operating with radiation and strong magnetic fields is done in a safe manner.
At its Business Innovation Centre (BIC) in Japan, Konica Minolta has therefore developed an innovative, alternative non-destructive infrastructure inspection technology that is safe, reliable, easy to handle and efficient. Within the SenrigaN project, the company is in collaboration with other specialist organisations and universities.
Magnetic field sensors and AI identifying breakages and corrosion
Konica Minolta’s handheld solution applies a magnetic field sensory technology and the Internet of Things. Bridge dilapidation can be hard to see with the naked eye, especially as on pre-stressed concrete bridges internal rusting produces little external deformation. SenrigaN uses special magnets to generate a magnetic field within the steel inside the construction. When there is no breakage in the internal material, the magnetic field flows in one direction and gradually weakens in proportion to distance. If there is a breakage or damage, however, the magnetic field is interrupted and rapidly falls off beyond the break point. This change in magnetic field makes it possible to detect hidden fractures in the steel.
The structure to be inspected can be easily scanned with SenrigaN and the data is immediately uploaded to the cloud. This data is analysed using unique algorithms to locate fracture points in real time. To make the device even more user-friendly, further advanced features like measurement automation, integration with bridge 3D data and fracture predication using AI and Deep Learning are incorporated into the solution by Konica Minolta.
Kazunao Maruyama, Project Manager of SenrigaN at Konica Minolta’s BIC Japan states: “Our ultimate goal is that with the support of AI and Deep Learning, we create a device that can be easily operated by workers who are not specifically trained experts in magnetic fields, but in construction. We aim to provide a safe, reliable and easy-to-operate solution for everyone who is responsible for maintaining and evaluating infrastructure.”
Promising field tests in Japan and Myanmar
The product SenrigaN is currently in the testing phase and the initial results are very promising so far. Konica Minolta has successfully tested the procedure in collaboration with railway and infrastructure companies on testing bodies and actual railway bridges in Japan, showing that the system is easy to operate and safe to use. On behalf of the local government and in collaboration with affiliated universities, the company also inspected bridges in Myanmar, a country that suffered a bridge collapse in its recent past.
After the ongoing thorough research and development (R&D) period, the product may possibly launch as early as this year. It would be the basis for providing inspection services together with dedicated expert partners, such as specialist infrastructure evaluation companies. The key customer groups include highway and railroad companies and operators.
“We are very proud to be able to contribute to finding solutions to the future challenges of our society through innovative products such as SenrigaN. Down the line of the development of the product, we see possibilities to adapt the technology for additional purposes – for example in production facilities for the evaluation of the structural integrity of conveyor belts. This is a prime example of Konica Minolta’s effort to truly create value for society – acknowledging the importance of infrastructure and its safety," explains Kazunao Maruyama, Project Manager of SenrigaN at Konica Minolta’s BIC Japan