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FLIR Technical Series Application Note for Research & Science

Assessment of Concrete Bridge Structures Using Infrared Thermography


D. S. Prakash Rao The University of the West Indies, Trinidad and Tobago
Abstract Bridges are high investment structures, and important land marks in any country besides being vital links in transportation system. Assessing the quality of construction for structural safety is expensive and time consuming. Infrared thermography, on the other hand, provides a fast method of scanning large areas effectively. An assessment of the safety and quality of construction of a concrete bridge is presented. The investigations were later extended to a few other concrete bridges. The quality of construction of the bridges was assessed using infrared thermography for the first time in India. Infrared thermography was adopted among several other methods of non-destructive testing, and was found to be fast and effective in locating zones of deficient concrete in the structures. The images of the structures taken on different days during various times of the day were assessed for deficiencies. The suspect regions indicated by thermal images were confirmed by other techniques, and remedial programs were designed to correct the quality of concrete. The effectiveness of thermal images in the assessment of bridge structures, confirmatory tests, and remedial measures are described in this brief paper. Introduction Thermal images provide an excellent tool for rapid assessment of concrete structures, such as the bridge collapse surveyed in this paper. Non-contact and non-destructive, thermography is useful in rapid condition surveys of structures without requiring any access to the test region. The method has enormous potential in quality control applications during construction as well as investigations of completed structures without interrupting the construction or usage of the structure. A part of a concrete bridge superstructure collapsed during construction, and raised concerns about the quality of the materials, and the safety of the structure. The author was invited to assess the quality of the concrete, and safety of the bridge structure. The assessment, the first time infrared thermography (IRT) had been used for such a purpose in India, was later extended to a few other concrete bridges due to suspect quality. Assessing the quality of construction and structural safety of concrete structures by other methods is expensive and time-consuming. Infrared thermography was used along with several other methods of nondestructive testing (NDT), and was found to be fast and effective in scanning large areas and locating zones of deficient concrete in the structures. The regions of concrete of suspect quality were then checked by other NDT methods for confirmation, and to design suitable remedial methods. The details of one of the bridge structures assessed, the effectiveness of thermal images in locating deficient concrete, confirmatory tests, and remedial measures adopted to rectify the zones of deficient concrete are described briefly in the paper.

Assessment of Concrete Bridges Vital pieces of infrastructure, and in many cases, important landmarks, bridges are high-investment structures. Assessing the quality of concrete in large bridge structures under construction or in service is an immense job. Several NDT methods are available to assess the quality of concrete in bridge structures. However, all the methods require access to the structure and direct contact with the test elements. The usual non-destructive testing (NDT) methods rely either on surface hardness (Schmidt rebound hammer, SRH), the propagation of ultrasonic waves (ultrasonic pulse velocity, UPV) or electromagnetic energy (ground penetrating radar, GPR) through concrete; such methods are slow, and require surface preparation besides assessing the quality of concrete only locally over small areas. Other methods, generally based on dynamic characteristics or propagation of an impulse in the structure, assess the response of the overall structure, and cannot locate local deficiencies. Infrared thermography, on the other hand, provides a rapid method of assessing the quality of structures, especially those difficult to access. The availability of efficient, high resolution infrared cameras that convert the radiation sensed from the surfaces into thermal images has simplified the process of condition surveys and quality assessment considerably. While other methods require direct access to the test element, and sometimes surface treatment, IRT is a non-contact, non-destructive technique, and a valuable addition to the repertoire of NDT methods. Large areas of concrete surfaces can be scanned rapidly to obtain thermal images that provide information about the deficient regions. Thermal images of the structures taken on different days during various times of the day were assessed for concrete quality and local deficiencies. The suspect regions indicated by thermal images were confirmed by other techniques, and a remedial program was designed to correct the quality of concrete. The other tests included sonic, UPV, SRH and GPR; dynamic characteristics of the structures were also assessed to check the overall performance of the bridge structures. However, it is the assessment of a single bridge structure by IRT, confirmatory tests, and remedial measures that is discussed briefly in this paper. The Structure The bridge structure discussed in the paper is a flyover of straight alignment, curved in elevation, bi-directional with four lanes. The flyover comprises nine simple spans of 4 21.0 + 40.0 + 4 21.0 m with a total length of about 500 m including the approach ramps. The main span of 40.0 m comprises a prestressed concrete cast-in-situ box girder, while the other spans of 21.0 m length comprise prestressed concrete longitudinal girders with cross girders. The ramps comprising the approaches to the flyover are reinforced earth structures. Figure 1 shows the main span of the structure comprising the box girder and the approach spans. The soffit of the approach spans, comprising slab and girders, can be seen in Figure 2. The piers, flayed above the ground level to support the cross beams of the adjoining spans, are provided with vertical grooves on all the four faces to enhance structural aesthetics (Figure 2). Condition Survey A condition survey was taken up to collect preliminary data. The entire structure was scanned visually for cracks and surface blemishes. The visual inspection of the structure did not indicate any major deficiencies or sources of potential problems. The structure was of formwork finish, and of generally good texture. The visual inspection of the deck slab and girders did not reveal any significant cracking or visible signs of deficiencies except some

Figure 1. A view of the flyover

Figure 2. Soffit of the flyover, and a pier

honeycombing in the soffit of some of the deck slab panels. These panels were marked for further investigations using IRT and GPR. A few hairline cracks noticed on the concrete deck surface were attributed to drying shrinkage. The condition survey included the following processes. 1. Detailed visual inspection 2. Scanning of all the concrete surfaces by infrared camera 3. Survey of cracks, spalls, honeycombing, and other defects 4. Study of test records on concrete cubes 5. Measurement of concrete cover and reinforcing bar spacing with cover meter 6. Sonic tests to locate any deficiencies 7. SHR tests for assessment of concrete quality and compressive strength 8. UPV tests for quality of concrete and compressive strength 9. GPR investigations in the regions of suspect concrete quality Thermal Imaging The radiation emitted by the surfaces of a material depends upon its thermal properties, and surface condition. The quality of concrete can be correlated to the radiation emitted from its surface, among other factors. Any variation in the quality of concrete results in differential energy emitted by the surfaces, and in a differential thermal image. The variation in the quality of concrete can be detected by the thermal images. All the components of the structure including retaining walls, piers, abutments, and superstructure were scanned using an IRT camera. The thermal image of a segment of the flyover is shown in Figure 3; the image shows clear surfaces with no blemish or variation in the quality of concrete. Figures 4 and 5 are thermal images of piers. The small bright patches by the side of the vertical band indicate a variation in the quality of concrete. The dark vertical band in the images pertains to the vertical groove in the piers (Figure 6). All such regions on piers were noted for further investigations to confirm defective concrete.
Figure 5. Thermal image of another pier Figure 3. Thermal image of the soffit of the flyover

Figure 4. Thermal image of a pier

The soffit of the girders and deck slabs was scanned thoroughly for similar blemishes and indications of any variation in the quality of concrete. The images of the most of the structure indicated uniform quality of concrete. However, a few deck panels indicated a variation in the quality of concrete as can be seen in Figure 7. The regions of suspect quality of concrete indicated by thermal imaging were marked, and confirmatory tests were conducted. Confirmatory Tests The thermal images indicated a few blemishes on the pier surfaces and deck slabs. Slight honeycombing was discernible on the soffit of a few deck slab panels, but the extent of poor quality concrete was made clearer by thermal imaging. Confirmatory tests were indicated to determine the extent of poor quality concrete, and to design suitable corrective measures. The confirmatory tests included: Sonic tests SHR UPV GPR Sonic Tests Sonic tests are simple to perform and interpret. However, they should be used only for preliminary assessment, and should be supplemented by other tests such as SRH and UPV.

Figure 6. A typical pier of the flyover

Figure 7. Thermal image of the deck slab panel

A heavy chain or a metal piece may be dragged on the surface; the emanating noise, when analyzed carefully indicates the variations in the quality of the material. Any variation in the quality of material can be detected by the changes in the noise. The tests may also be carried out with the help of a small hammer; the variation in the noise when the surfaces are struck indicates the variation in the quality of materials. This test is particularly useful for vertical surfaces such as girder webs and piers. The entire bridge structure was subjected to sonic tests (by dragging a heavy chain on the deck slab, and by means of a hammer on piers, abutments, and superstructure). The suspect regions of the deck slab were checked carefully for any weak and deficient regions by sonic method. No significant changes in the quality of materials were noticeable except in the regions noted from the thermal images. The regions of hollow sound on the surfaces of a few piers generally coincided with the regions of blemishes noted by thermal imaging. Schmidt Rebound Hammer The Schmidt rebound hammer test method measures the hardness of concrete surface by an impact plunger, and is calibrated for compressive strength from the measurements of the rebound. The results are useful in determining the variation in the quality of concrete in a structure. The influence of various parameters, such as the age of concrete, concrete mix, materials quality, presence of steel, surface preparation and cracking, should be considered in assessing the structural quality and strength of concrete. The tests were conducted on the abutments, piers, girders, and deck slabs. In particular, the piers with suspect quality of concrete indicated by thermal images were tested intensively. An orthogonal grid of five points in each direction spaced at 200 mm was marked over test regions (Figure 8). The readings were recorded at the grid points, and average values were recorded after checking the readings for consistency by repeating the tests at each point. Small rock pockets of about 100 mm size were discernible in one of the piers. SRH readings were also taken at random in various regions of the piers, abutments, and beams to assess the concrete quality. While the concrete was poor in some locations noted from thermal images, it was generally of good quality. The strength of concrete from the standard tables of the SRH manual was estimated conservatively to be at least 30 MPa in the piers and deck slab, and M 45 in the girders. Thus, barring the regions of poor quality, the concrete of the flyover was generally found to be of adequate quality. Ultrasonic Pulse Velocity Tests An ultrasonic pulse velocity test is based on the principle of passing high frequency sound waves through the body of concrete, and measuring the time taken to travel a known distance. It is primarily used to assess the homogeneity of the concrete and to detect voids, porosity, and crack depths. The pulse velocity method has wide applications in assessing the quality of concrete. The device measures the travel time of the pulse between transmitter and receiver through the given medium. The tests were conducted on the same piers and girders on which SRH tests were conducted. The probes were placed over the grid points marked for the rebound hammer tests (Figure 8). The probe contacts, and concrete surfaces ground smooth were smeared with petroleum jelly to ensure good coupling. The readings were checked for consistency, and repeated for steady readings as per the standard practice.

Figure 8. A typical pier with grid markings for SRH tests

The UPV readings were taken by the direct method, and repeated by indirect method. The probes were placed on the opposite faces of the pier or girder webs, and steady values of time lapsed were noted to compute the pulse velocity (direct method). The UPV values were noted by placing the probes over the adjacent points of the grid spaced at 200 mm successively (indirect method). The mean values of several readings were noted for each test location. The UPV values were generally 3.0 4.0 km / s indicating good quality of concrete, based on direct measurements. However, the surface UPV values were lower than 3.0 km / s only in one of the piers, while they were more than 3.0 km / s at other locations. It is likely that only the surface concrete is of poor quality, and the inner concrete is of good quality in general. The quality of inner concrete was assessed by subsurface images obtained by the GPR. The UPV indicated generally good quality of concrete, except for the local pockets of poor concrete in some of the piers. Ground Penetrating Radar GPR is widely adopted for sub-surface imaging to assess the structural condition and to locate inner defects. The system comprises an antenna emitting electromagnetic energy, and receiving the reflected energy from the surfaces as well as that from the inner layers, besides a processor. GPR emits electromagnetic energy that is projected in the form of radio frequency pulses into the structural element. The energy reflected depends upon the type and nature of the antenna, and the materials involved. The reflected energy is transformed into visual images, which provide extensive data on the subsurface (inner) materials. Various spans of the flyover were scanned using a GPR system with 1.0 GHz antenna. The mandatory span was scanned for three dimensional images, while line scans were recorded for other spans. The antenna mounted on a wheel cart was dragged along specified lines systematically. The grid lines were spaced at 1.0 m in both the directions on the deck slab to obtain a three dimensional view of the box girder. The GPR subsurface images in the vicinity of the groove indicated voids in the concrete; the uniformity of these bands below the reinforcement indicated that the poor quality concrete was limited to the cover region of about 50 - 100 mm depth below the surface. In general, the subsurface images indicated that the region of poor quality concrete was not beyond a depth of about 100 mm from the surface. While thermal images located the regions of poor quality concrete, the subsurface images helped confirm the results and estimate the extent of the regions. Since the depth of poor quality concrete was 50 - 100 mm over limited regions extending barely half a meter as estimated from the subsurface images, grouting with cement slurry to fill the inner voids was recommended. Corrective Measures While the quality of concrete was generally consistent and satisfactory, the investigations revealed a few pockets of poor quality concrete. These regions of poor quality concrete noted in a few piers, and deck slab soffit were grouted subsequently with cement slurry to improve the quality of concrete, and rectify the deficiency. The grout comprised cement slurry with superplasticiser, and was injected with a hand pump. An adequate number of nipples were fixed over the deficient regions in 16 mm diameter holes drilled to a depth of about 100 mm. The grout was injected till refusal or flow commenced through upper nipples.

Only one pier, which indicated a large deficient region, consumed over 40 kg of cement, while three other piers consumed less than 1.5 kg of cement grout. The amount of flow into deck slab and other piers was not significant (less than 1.0 kg). Grouting of other regions of the piers not of suspect quality was also attempted; however, barely any grout could be injected into other locations of the structure. The bridge was monitored again after the remedial measures, and no further regions of suspect quality were located. The concrete in the grouted regions was found to be of adequate quality and strength. Bridge Components The bridge appurtenances such as expansion joints, drainage system and bearings as well were investigated. The regions of bridge bearings did not show any deficiency or inconsistency with the design parameters. The regions around the expansion joints and drainage inlets were also monitored with the infrared camera. While the presence of moisture in the regions of drain pipes and expansion joints may be of no significance to the safety and performance of the structure, it may affect the durability of the structure and lead to maintenance problems in the long run. The regions around the drainage pipes and expansion joints retained moisture, and need to be rectified. It was also noticed that the rubber seals at the expansion joints were anchored into the kerb walls upwards (Figure 9). Such a practice prevents rain water from draining off; the stagnant water may percolate into the structure and lead to corrosion in the vicinity of the expansion joints. The thermal image of the expansion joint region shown in Figure 10 indicates penetration of moisture into the deck slab. The joint was rectified subsequently to avoid moisture penetration. The pier bases are surrounded by - flower beds and plants for aesthetics and pleasing appearance to the structure in general (Figure 11). However, the soil around the piers retains moisture, which may percolate into the concrete surfaces. Thermal images, taken when the soil around the piers was dry, indicated moisture penetration into the concrete of the piers as indicated in Figure 12. The moisture absorbed by the buried concrete surfaces will be detrimental to the reinforcing steel, and may cause corrosion. This problem is peculiar to all the flyovers provided with plantation for beautification. If chemical fertilizers are used, the problem is aggravated. Recommendations The flyover was found to be generally of adequate and consistent quality except the pockets of poor quality concrete in some of the piers and deck slab panels. The pockets of poor quality concrete were grouted with cement to rectify the deficiency. The recommendations listed below are to ensure durability of the structure. Drainage Spouts The rainwater inlets to drain off water from the deck slab are provided with dispersers to spray water below without damaging the black top surface of the service roads (Figure 2). However, these spouts should be inspected frequently, and cleaned to prevent birds, mainly pigeons, from building nests inside and blocking free flow of water. The joints around the spouts were checked for moisture penetration using thermal images, and were sealed. Expansion Joints The rubber seals of expansion joints should be inspected periodically, particularly before and during rainy season, and cleaned of any
Figure 9. A typical expansion joint

Figure 10. Thermal image of a typical expansion joint

Figure 11. A typical pier with flower bed

Figure 12. Moisture penetration into the pier concrete

accumulated debris. Water should not be allowed to stagnate in this region. (Figures 9 and 10). Flower Beds Around the Piers The flower beds and plants provided around the pier bases enhance the aesthetics of bridges, and impart a pleasing appearance to the structures (Figure 10). However, the soil around the piers retains moisture, which may penetrate into the buried concrete surfaces. Thermal images did indicate moisture penetration into the concrete (Figure 11). The moisture absorbed by the buried concrete surfaces will be detrimental to the reinforcing steel, and may cause corrosion. This problem is peculiar to all the flyovers provided with plantation for beautification, and is aggravated if chemical fertilizers are used for the plants. Summary The investigations on a concrete bridge for material quality and structural safety are presented in this brief paper. Several non-destructive testing methods were adopted in the investigations because of the size of the structure and its significance. Infrared thermography provided a fast method of scanning large areas effectively for quality control and safety assessment. The regions of deficient concrete in a few locations were identified by thermal imaging, and were confirmed by other tests including sonic, ultrasonic, Schmidt rebound hammer, and ground penetrating radar. The utility of thermal imaging is described along with that of other methods adopted in the assessment of the structure. The structure was generally of good quality concrete, except for local pockets of poor concrete in some of the piers and deck slab panels. The deficient regions were grouted with cement slurry to improve the quality of concrete, and to ensure the durability of the structure. Other components of the flyover, such as expansion joints, drainage system, and bearings, were also investigated. Thermal images indicated penetration of moisture into the deck slab near the expansion joints, which was rectified subsequently. The flower beds around the pier bases caused penetration of moisture into the concrete, as indicated by thermal images. While the flower beds enhance the aesthetics and beautify the structure, the presence of moisture, especially in the presence of chemical fertilizers, may be detrimental to the durability of the structure. Acknowledgements The author appreciates the help of Mr. P. A. N. V. Prasada Rao, PCI Pvt. Ltd., Hyderabad, India, Prof. M. Koti Reddy and other colleagues, Chaitanya Bharathi Institute of Technology, Hyderabad, India, and the colleagues of Advanced Technology and Engineering Services, New Delhi, India in the investigations. References Rao, D. S. Prakash, Advanced non-destructive testing methods, Workshop on Emerging Trends in Construction, Construction Industry Development Council, New Delhi, India, December, 2006 Rao, D. S. Prakash, Advanced quality control techniques for important bridge projects, International Conference on Fast Track Construction of Bridges for Important Projects, National Bridge Research and Training Centre, Hyderabad, India, February, 2007

Rao, D. S. Prakash, Investigations on ancient masonry structures using infrared thermography, Inframation 2007 Proceedings, USA, October 2007 About the Author The author is a Level I thermographer.

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