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IoT System for Tunnel Construction Built Using CompactRIO

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Original Authors: Masatsugu Shiraishi, (The Zenitaka Corporation)

Edited by Cyth Systems

Internet-of-Things system built using NI CompactRIO for increased safety and power consumption monitoring of mountain tunnel construction sites.
Internet-of-Things system built using NI CompactRIO for increased safety and power consumption monitoring of mountain tunnel construction sites.

The Challenge

Building a system to better secure the safety of work crews in the construction of mountain tunnels and reduce construction site energy consumption.

The Solution

Developing an IoT ('Internet of Things') system using CompactRIO that actively tracks the location of workers and their construction vehicles using RFID tags. As well, using CompactRIO hardware and LabVIEW software to develop a system to actively measure and monitor construction site energy consumption to provide data logging and active energy reduction.


Our corporation has two major business areas: architectural construction focused on structures such as government buildings, office buildings, and commercial facilities, while our civil engineering construction sector is targeted at structures such as tunnels, bridges and dams. Within these areas, there have two persistent issues in regard to the construction These issues are improving safety and reducing energy consumption.

Mountain tunnels construction requires a massive amount of electricity. This is because there are many kinds of electrical equipment being used day and night, including construction machinery, construction lighting, and ventilating fan. Despite this, the amount of power consumption is generally not tightly managed and measured. In many cases, the exact amount of power consumption is only ascertained when the bill from the power company becomes available. Sometimes, corporations install demand-monitoring equipment to help curb the maximum power demanded. However, even in these cases, the devices only allow the total volume of power consumption to be ascertained, or they may issue warnings to prevent the contracted volume of power from being exceeded. In order to tackle the issue of reducing power consumption, it was first necessary to obtain an accurate breakdown of how much power was being used in each particular area. In other words, we needed to be able to visualize the amount of power being consumed.

'TUNNEL EYE' system
The 'TUNNEL EYE' system uses an IoT (Internet-of-Things) framework to simultaneously provide functionality for both safety management and in reducing power consumption in mountain tunnel construction. As of March 2016, Zenitaka had implemented this system at the construction work site for the Shido Tunnel on the Takamatsu Expressway.

In order to tackle the challenges mentioned above, Zenitaka decided to build a system that could improve the safety of tunnel construction as well as reduce the amount of power consumed. In other words, this new system would facilitate a clear picture of which workers were working in each location at the mountain tunnel construction site, as well as which processes were being carried out at those respective locations at any given time. The system would maintain the safety of all workers while also carefully controlling the electrical equipment to reduce unnecessary power consumption.

Having decided on the concept, our next concern was whether there existed any kind of robust hardware that would not break down at the construction work site, that could move freely in response to changes in the working environment, and that could accurately detect workers and vehicles using radio frequency identification (RFID). Given that this system would involve many components that were new to Zenitaka, we decided to enlist a joint development partner, as they had provided us with a highly practical proposal.

Left: Control terminal built using CompactRIO, Center: Screen displaying information on workers and the onsite environment, Right: LabVIEW user interface visualizing the power consumption breakdown.

This system is composed of a server located on site, such as in the office at the construction work site, and multiple control terminals with allocated IP addresses. CompactRIO worked as the control terminals, and the required functionality has been developed using LabVIEW. Each control terminal is fitted with components such as an RFID reader for detecting workers and construction vehicles entering the tunnel, a densitometer for measuring the concentration of substances such as dust and combustible gases, and a wattmeter monitoring the operational status of the construction lighting, ventilating fan, and tunnel excavating machinery. These terminals are attached to each piece of electrical equipment that will be controlled, as well as to the electrical distribution boards that are positioned every 100 m within the tunnel, and all are linked to the server via the network.

Each control terminal collects data on the position of workers and vehicles within the tunnel, as well as on the concentrations of various gases, and sends this information to the server. Data received by the server is analyzed and processed, and instructions for controlling the lighting and ventilating fan are then issued to the terminals based on the data results. This mechanism correlates the various kinds of measurement data with the electrical equipment, and utilizes the IoT for intercommunication to control and automatically reduce power consumption. CompactRIO-based distributed measurement systems use CompactRIO to perform measurements and process data. In most cases, these results are only sent in a single direction: upstream to the server. However, the TUNNEL EYE system is also able to send data downstream from the server to CompactRIO. This two-way data transfer is one of the special features of the TUNNEL EYE system.

By building the system in this way, we have been able to achieve improvements in safety and reduced power consumption. The respective benefits are described in further detail below.

Firstly, we have improved safety by ensuring that all people entering the work site carry a portable RFID tag. This has enabled us to manage work site entry electronically. In addition, we can now determine the location of each person working on site, and record their movements within the site. This means that we can track a person's location based on their previous movements if an emergency occurs in the tunnel work site, such as a fire or cave-in.

Although there have been similar other types of tunnel entry management systems in the past, the major distinguishing feature of the TUNNEL EYE system is that data on the workers can be linked to the operation of the automatic controls for the lighting and ventilating fan. In other words, the energy saving feature is linked to the safety confirmation feature and operates accordingly once confirmation of worker safety has been assured. Let us illustrate this functionality using the example of transporting excavated earth. Huge dump trucks must make return trips into the tunnel as part of this process. The TUNNEL EYE system detects he movement of these trucks and triggers the lighting to make it brighter than usual. At the same time, the speed of the ventilating fan is automatically increased to cope with the exhaust fumes from the entering truck, as well as the dust particles from the excavated earth that will be blown around by the movement of the truck. As another example, take the case of workers located at the face of the tunnel excavation while electrical equipment such as a drill jumbo is being operated. In this scenario, no vehicles are making return trips, so exhaust fumes and dust particles are less of an issue. The system automatically controls the lights to dim the brightness elsewhere in the tunnel and reduce the speed of the ventilating fan. Unnecessary power consumption can be reduced, thanks to the ability to automatically control the lighting and ventilating fan to suit any combination of various situations, such as whether workers or construction vehicles are present, the operating status of construction machinery, and the concentration of various gases. If safety in the tunnel has been confirmed, the lighting and fan may also be switched off using a tablet device. In addition, a breakdown of the volume of power used on site can now be visualized. This is an essential step towards achieving reduced energy consumption.

In particular, the ability to control the ventilating fan contributes greatly to reducing energy consumption. Ordinarily, the fan would be operated continuously at maximum speeds. However, the reality is that high speeds are not required when there is minimal dust. Accordingly, the concentration of dust is measured by a densitometer and then the speed of the fan is adjusted based on these results to prevent power from being wasted unnecessarily. This is a method that has been used previously. However, there is one important difference with the TUNNEL EYE technique. Under the previous method, the tunnel face environment might already be covered in high concentrations of dust by the time dust is detected by the densitometer. This is because the densitometer is positioned approximately 50m away from the tunnel face to prevent faults that could be caused by contact with the construction machinery or by explosive blasts. By the time the dust is detected, it is already too late to start increasing the speed of the ventilating fan. In contrast, the TUNNEL EYE system detects workers and construction vehicles, measures the power consumption of each piece of equipment, and measures the concentration of substances in the air. Based on this collective information, the kind of activity being conducted within the tunnel can be recognized automatically. If the system then predicts that this activity will cause the volume of dust to increase, it can automatically configure the ventilating fan to operate at maximum speed in preparation, rather than wait until the densitometer actually detects a high concentration of dust. This achieves enhanced reliability of the continued safety of workers in comparison to previous methods. The program for this kind of control flow has been revised countless times for optimization, resulting in smooth operation and efficient energy conservation.

The design and implementation of the TUNNEL EYE system was able to be completed in just two months. Following this, it was repeatedly tested and revised, and even this latter process was concluded in one month. The reason we were able to achieve the full system in the short time of just three months was largely thanks to our use of CompactRIO, which allows reconfiguring, and LabVIEW, which facilitates graphical development.

Original Authors:

Masatsugu Shiraishi, (The Zenitaka Corporation)

Edited by Cyth Systems


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