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Debates stay mum on smart tools

BP’s lengthy oil spill in the Gulf and the Keystone Pipeline are issues long familiar to people of all walks. In sharp contrast, who ever heard of Structural Health Monitoring?  
I first heard the term just two months ago. I was quickly amazed to see the extent of new techniques available to guard against leaky oil pipes of all kinds. Why does anything so relevant stay hidden from public news?  
Structural Health Monitoring (SHM) is well explained in Wikipedia. SHM refers to methods of gauging damage in materials and other safety aspects of engineered structures. Devices tied into structures detect changes as materials age. From the changes, computing parts assess safety. Call them “smart tools.”
The tools can check and report frequently on the well-being of structures such as bridges, airplanes and pipelines. The results, in turn, point to in-situ methods of timely repair. “In-situ” repair means repairing in place without tearing things open.
SHM is no mere glint on the horizon. It thrives now and keeps improving. The discipline of SHM has an international society of its own with its own technical journal. The 10th International Workshop on SHM was held last fall at Stanford University. Princeton offers a graduate course in SHM. The topic clearly has history and substance.