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Repairing Bridges Without Stopping Traffic
November 3, 2015   
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A Warsaw company has invented a special water-borne renovation platform that makes it possible to repair, clean and rustproof bridges without closing them to traffic.

Designed by Centrum Badawcze Powłok Ochronnych (CEBAPO), a Warsaw-based company that conducts research on corrosion and protective coatings, the platform enables crews to access a bridge from the water below it. This makes it possible to avoid stopping traffic and creating congestion on nearby roads.

Most traditional methods of renovating and maintaining bridges require them to be either completely or partially closed to traffic. This is necessary because renovation crews use heavy-duty equipment such as power generators and compressors, in addition to cleaning devices and scaffolding. They also need workshop and warehouse space as well as quarters for workers. An additional problem is that many bridges do not have a separate lane for pedestrian traffic. As a result, closing a bridge to traffic often causes major problems for local residents as well as for drivers affected by detours and slow traffic.

Some bridges are equipped with suspended maintenance platforms. However, these are usually not designed to withstand the considerable weight of the machinery used by renovation crews. The floating water-borne platform developed by CEBAPO solves this problem.

Malwina Wodzyńska, the project manager, said initially “there were many question marks: if this new method would be safe to humans, whether we would be able to spread out the equipment in such a way so that it would not sway, and if ships and motorboats passing by would not make excessive waves, making it difficult for renovation crews to do their work.”

The floating bridge-renovation platform cost a total of zl.4.51 million to design and build in a project that began in March 2012 and ended in December 2014. The National Center for Research and Development granted zl.2.25 million to help construct and test the invention. CEBAPO picked up the rest of the tab. The Institute of Precision Mechanics in Warsaw and the AGH University of Science and Technology in Cracow also contributed to the project.

“The results are very promising,” says Wodzyńska. “We have demonstrated that corrosion protection work can be done from the water level and that this is safe for workers.”

The platform can be easily transported to the site by road. It consists of six segments that are joined upon arrival into a stable floating platform. Equipment on board includes a combustion compressor unit and equipment for abrasive blasting and coating. The platform is also equipped with a power generator, which makes it self-sufficient in terms of power supply.

CEBAPO is still testing its innovative platform as a prototype before the invention is ready for commercial use. The company says it must first raise more funds before it launches large-scale production.

CEBAPO expects demand to run high, especially once Poland begins spending more money on regulating rivers nationwide. Bridges must regularly undergo anti-corrosion treatment, and the effectiveness of such work depends on the method used.

“One method used internationally for a long time is thermal spraying,” Wodzyńska says. “Structures protected with it can survive up to a hundred years. In Poland, however, steel structures are most often protected with paint coatings and these are less durable.”

The main reason is money. Thermal spraying is about 30 percent more expensive than the paint coating method. Meanwhile, companies providing anti-corrosion treatment through metalizing offer a 25-year, 50-year or even lifetime warranty. Considering value for money, it turns out that metalizing is the better choice in the long term, the project leader says, especially because corrosion is not only a financial problem but also a cause of accidents that have serious consequences for people and the environment. In total, corrosion causes losses of about zl.100 billion annually in Poland, she says.

The floating platform built by CEBAPO can also be used to renovate and rustproof railroad bridges without stopping rail traffic, Wodzyńska says. In this case, the thermal spraying method works best, especially as it also works for metal structures such as corroded railroad electrification systems.

“We will be selling not just the platform itself but a comprehensive corrosion protection service,” says Wodzyńska.

Usually renovation work means closing a bridge to traffic for several days, weeks or even months. It may also require scaffolding and other structures that have to be assembled on site. “In our case, we just dock our floating platform and do most of the work without disrupting traffic in any way,” Wodzyńska says. “Our method is convenient and the cheapest out there in terms of its long-term effect.”

Karolina Olszewska
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