Structural health monitoring — observing the health of a bridge or building over time — is projected to be a $5 to $6 billion market by 2025. Louisville company StructuRight, is positioned to ride that wave of growth. We spoke to Jeff Phelps, StructuRight’s CEO, about how the company came to be, what it’s working on and what’s great about being located in Louisville.
Tell us about what you do.
Phelps: We look at a building, develop a digital asset, draw it, and then work with an engineer to place our system in the building. Once it is in installed, our system monitors structural deformation of key points in the building, including angular deformation and inter-story drift from a fixed point.
In layman’s terms, we look at how the building is moving. We have both a portal and an app, the purpose of which is to provide real-time data access and alerts. Stakeholders — the engineer, the property owners or whomever — receive a notification that the building has moved.
Then through the portal, we collect this data, which the end user can access to perform deeper dives into the structural performance of that building.
What is the primary space you currently work within?
Phelps: At present, our primary space is in bourbon barrel storage facilities or rickhouses. We have also identified a need to monitor environmental conditions, such as temperature and humidity levels. We’ve built our system to be sensor-agnostic. This means we can basically take any available sensor on the IoT sensor in the marketplace and plug it into our system.
How did the business get started?
Phelps: I used to be an architect. I was working on the City Hall in New Albany, Indiana, an old masonry building that was sitting in a flood plain. We needed to find a way to monitor the building’s movement to ensure that people were safe. We needed to monitor the building so we could stabilize it and ultimately initiate structural remediation.
While all of this was going on, I shared office space with Drew Duffin and a couple of others in the historic theater in downtown Louisville. Drew had a drone on his desk. I was looking at the drone and taking it apart when I found a variety of sensors.
I thought that if a drone can be controlled remotely, then surely we can come up with a solution for city hall. We needed a system that could be deployed on a building to precisely measure how the building is moving.
Drew and I found an engineer to build the hardware, and then we built the company. Within two months, we had developed a prototype to deploy at at City Hall.
Immediately after we deployed the system, there was a big wind storm. The sensors we had placed in the building picked up movement. To test our system, the engineer hired a third party to do a scan of it and build a heat map. All of that validated the data that we had collected on that building, so basically it was a proof of concept right there.
So then you transitioned to the bourbon industry?
Phelps: The reason we like the bourbon space is because it’s very difficult. The storage facilities, or rickhouses, provide challenges that force us to be nimble. It is also a high-hazard environment, as alcohol has a tendency to combust if the vapor content rises above a certain threshold.
Where do you go in the future?
Phelps: We already know this tech can apply across many different industries, from civil construction to bridges, dams, major utility plans, high-rise skyscrapers and everything in between. We want to prove the concept, prove our core, prove our value, and then expand in the next couple of years into these alternative markets.
Aside from your connection with the bourbon industry, what are the other advantages of being located in Louisville?
Phelps: First, we’re able to do more with less. Up to this point, we have boot-strapped everything. Although we teetered on looking for investments from suppliers and manufacturers across the country, we always come back to Louisville specifically or to Kentucky.
In terms of brand awareness, working in the bourbon industry is a sexy market, where word travels fast. Word of mouth has definitely helped us grow.
There is also a lot of hidden talent here. We don’t have to consult with a $500-per-hour engineer out of Palo Alto, California because we can just go down to a hacker space or ask a friend if he or she knows somebody. Nine times out of 10, the contact we find turns out to be pretty impressive. I would say that one of the bigger takeaways is having a local resource for everything.
We’re all very proud to be from Kentucky.