What a Cracked Bridge Can Teach Us About Equipment Inspection
Until a couple of weeks ago, thousands of vehicles crossed the Interstate 40 bridge between Tennessee and Arkansas every day. The I-40 bridge has been closed since May 11 — after a routine inspection turned up a massive crack and raised alarm bells about the integrity of the its structure. Now, an indefinite closure for repairs has State officials and engineers asking how such a severe defect went unnoticed for so long. It’s a practical lesson in the importance of equipment inspection.
Exploring the crack in the I-40 bridge
The size and severity of the crack — found in a critical steel beam — indicated it was not a new problem. Investigators looked back at drone footage from May 2019 and discovered evidence of the crack that went undocumented. The bridge is now closed for repairs which could take months to complete.
The closure is a major blow to the trucking industry. Early estimates put total freight losses as high as $2.4M per day, including expected spikes in shipping and delivery costs. It also means an abrupt increase in freight traffic for the Interstate 55 bridge a few miles to the south. Caution — and a lesson well-learned — prompted inspectors to perform a thorough review of this 71-year-old piece of infrastructure as well.
A practical lesson in inspection integrity
Missed by a previous inspector, the I-40 bridge incident offers a valuable lesson about proper inspections and the potential consequences of infrastructure failure. Two years ago, the repair might have detoured traffic for a couple of weeks; now, a vital freight link between Tennessee and Arkansas is closed indefinitely. For manufacturers, the bridge serves as a reminder of the importance of regular, thorough equipment inspections. Replace the image of a cracked bridge beam with something as simple as a soft foot or faulty electrical motor and the results are the same: downtime, higher costs, lost revenues, frustration, and possible disaster.
Equipment inspection best practices
Thorough inspections come down to best practices and close attention during routine surveys. Here are a few safeguards manufacturers need to keep in mind as they keep tabs on essential equipment:
- Create a checklist with step-by-step inspection instructions for each piece of equipment.
- Schedule maintenance in tandem with inspections, to resolve smaller problems.
- Invest in technology to accurately track inspection records and observations.
- Create reports that thoroughly detail any issues found during inspections.
- Properly track faults with any piece of equipment and identify the root cause.
The difference between sudden failure and preventing fault
The I-40 bridge crisis illustrates what can happen when inspections are less than thorough. The trucking industry stands to lose millions of dollars in revenue, and freight operators are struggling to find alternate routes — causing congestion in other areas. In addition, the problem will cost more, in both time and money, than it would have if discovered and addressed earlier.
Improper inspections of equipment can result in major inconveniences, including machinery failure and factory shutdowns. That is to say nothing of the safety concerns that arise from problems caused by incomplete inspections. Inspections may seem routine, but the flaws they might turn up are anything but. It is vital to invest time, effort, and attention to detail in inspections — even if everything appears to be fine.