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Over recent years, winter gritting has been transformed by technology. At GRITIT, we’ve been proud to pioneer a scientific approach that goes beyond spreading salt, to applying leading edge research and IT to better understand how, and when, to take proactive steps to prevent ice and snow settling on a site. For us, the key to an effective service comes down to knowledge. It’s why our service has been powered by a technology platform, NIMBUS, which integrates the latest forecasting and reporting technology to drive proactive and timely action by our operatives. With accurate data as to the conditions at each client’s sites, it is possible to deliver a service exactly when ground temperature drops to the point when gritting is needed.
Better service, through better data
Without adequate knowledge, the whole process of winter gritting is a far riskier prospect in every sense. Taking a conservative, safety-first approach and gritting whenever a frost is probable can incur higher costs and wasteful over servicing that over the course of the winter can add thousands to winter maintenance budgets. More importantly from a risk management and safety perspective, it is essential to consider the opposite scenario – where ground conditions on site are actually worse than the local weather forecast might indicate. In this case, an inability to respond to conditions as they develop on site could lead to a higher risk of accidents. In either scenario, real time weather data has proved a game changer in enabling a more agile service that can react faster to changing conditions, reducing both costs and liabilities.
By transforming from an industry based on human judgement and manual processes into a data-driven and agile business, GRITIT has lead the winter maintenance industry onto a road that virtually all other industries are now travelling. And yet, across society at large, this move towards digitisation is only just starting. Alongside our ability and readiness to place data – and Big Data – at the heart of virtually all business processes has come a wider awareness of the need to source ever more relevant and timely data to allow businesses to better anticipate and respond to the needs of their customers. This seems rather abstract, but it is exactly what is happening next in winter maintenance.
Sensor technologies bring real time insight of conditions on the ground
At GRITIT, our in-house technology team has spent the past three years developing GRITIT Sensors, an exciting new technology that will power our next generation service offering.
GRITIT Sensors are a bespoke hardware solution that can send readings of relative road surface temperatures and precipitation data in real-time straight to our NIMBUS system. These compact and highly cost-effective digital temperature sensors can be placed on any surface and are independently powered to provide live readings from client sites. In particular, they can be placed on raised structures, bridges, and elevated walkways and/or be used to offer enhanced monitoring of high-traffic or of high-risk areas.
Once again, this all comes back to knowledge: Despite the very high sophistication of forecast data, sensors will offer an additional layer of security and accuracy to improve the delivery and timing of a service to a given site. Steve Webb, Commercial Director, Gritit describes the challenge: “Although short range forecast data is reasonably accurate these days, it is still not 100 per cent and certainly doesn’t take into account individual anomalies, local weather behaviour, or changes that haven’t been forecast. It may also not adequately offer sufficient accuracy at particularly high risk sites.”
By offering a real time, live feed of actual temperature conditions it will be possible to provide greater accuracy of service and thus avoid over-servicing when it’s not necessary, and thereby reduce the potential for mistakes arising from inaccurate forecasts. And while Sensors aim to mitigate risks as much as possible, they can also provide added protection from liabilities, by providing evidence of actual temperatures on the ground should any accidents occur.
Crucially, this same ability to deliver more localised data is already in-use on most of the UK’s roads and highways, helping to save taxpayers’ money as well as giving greater protection against accidents. However, that level of service has been reliant on very expensive data or devices and therefore is relatively inaccessible. By comparison, GRITIT Sensors are a comparatively inexpensive piece of technology, the costs of which – leaving aside their added value in terms of added safety and reduction of liabilities – could be rapidly recovered through savings to winter budgets. For some sites, where a MET Office contract has been cost-prohibitive, sensor technologies will have the most impact, making proactive monitoring and responding to road surface temperatures possible for the first time.
“We have seen great promise when piloting this technology, and have already had a fantastic response from several of our clients that are interested in the added security,” explains Webb. “There’s also an important business case at sites that have already had accidents and where organisations need to demonstrate an additional duty of care.”
Winter maintenance and the 4th Industrial Revolution
Breakthroughs in sensor technologies are set to change gritting in the way that better data did before. Similarly, it is also part of a wider technology trend that is powered by the proliferation of Internet-connected devices and sensors that are able to communicate with human operators, with each other and with online services.
This trend is commonly known as the Internet of Things (IoT) and encompasses everything from Internet-enabled home security, to smart meters, to connected traffic signals – all of which are providing greater levels of data and more flexible, intuitive – and often autonomous – functionality. With increased reliability affordability and sophistication of the underlying technologies, IoT has in recent years gone from source of hype and speculation into commercial deployments across a plethora of industries. With GRITIT Sensors, we are excited to be at the vanguard of bringing the power of IoT to facilities management – and once again changing the game.
For further information call GRITIT on 0800 043 2911 or visit www.gritit.com