National Physical Laboratory

Infrastructure Managing key resources and infrastructure

By 2025, the global population is expected to have grown to 8 billion people. This, combined with a changing climate, growing consumerism and increasing energy demand, presents significant challenges for sustaining resources and extending the lifetime of infrastructure.

Metrology will, therefore, support the transition to a sustainable economy by enabling the extension of the lifetime of infrastructure, validation of trading protocols for carbon, and monitoring of the status of key resources such as soil and water.

Explore NPL's progress towards meeting the challenge below:

Infrastructure protection and lifetime maximisation

DIFCAM project

Large amounts of the nation's infrastructure, including transport, built environment, power generation, distribution networks (power, water, sewerage, etc.) and flood protection, is old and past its original design life. In some cases, such as Network Rail tunnels and sewers, these may have been built in Victorian times or earlier.

There is a need to maintain this infrastructure in a cost-effective manner and the key to this are inspection and monitoring techniques which are automated, objective and reduce the exposure of people to hazardous environments. The assets are often geographically dispersed and removing them from service for inspection is generally difficult. The reliability of the in-situ measurements needed for this is high as the whole asset management system will be dependent on high quality measurements and good understanding.

New infrastructure needs to be designed for inspection and to have asset monitoring techniques identified at their construction.

Transport infrastructure:

  • Development of DIFCAM project with commercial partners is for optical measurements of structures such as tunnels on rail and road networks, removing subjectivity and increasing quality and speed of inspection and reducing possessions needed. Decreasing interruptions on network.
  • Use data from inspections to plan maintenance better, avoiding catastrophic failures, moving towards preventative and planned rather than on-demand maintenance.
  • Developing measurement techniques for deployment in tunnel and civil engineering construction environments to ensure structures are built to specification and of suitable quality. Monitor subsequent changes to ensure delivery of structures purpose.

Energy production and distribution:

  • Developed a suite of non-contact measurement techniques capable of measuring material properties of important nuclear components, like graphite, resulting in lifetime extensions of plant.
  • Using optical techniques to improve inspection in very hazardous environments and extend lifetime of¬†expensive plant, Where very high reliability is required (reprocessing nuclear fuels, storage of intermediate level waste, fatigue measurements in conventional power production).
  • Development of sensor specifications for new build alternative energy sources.
  • Development of assessment techniques for new materials used in next generation power generation plant (turbines, fusion, next generation reactors).

Complex plants:

  • Measurements of complex structures where corrosion, fatigue and mechanical failure need to be monitored.
  • Large scale rapid optical examination to identify areas where unexpected behaviour is taking place can be very difficult ad subjective for large. complex plant with many sub-components.
  • Corrosion monitoring.


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