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Technology and safety drive Norwich Bypass

Norwich Bypass is one of the UK’s largest road infrastructure projects currently under construction. Officially known as the Northern Distributor Road (NDR), its construction is being managed by primary contractor Balfour Beatty, with P.Flannery Plant Hire chosen as the main earthworks contractor.

The bulk earthworks task on this project is significant. Finning News were invited to site to see the Caterpillar-led fleet tackling the challenge, including Flannery’s latest purchase, the Cat 730C EJ Articulated Dump Truck.

For Operations Manager, Niall Hester, the project also represents the first time the business has been able to use advanced Caterpillar Production Measurement (CPM) data to support the management of a major project.

Niall: “We have been working with Balfour Beatty on numerous projects over the years, but the significance of the Norwich Bypass is the collaborative approach we have taken with sharing data and information. As part of the planning process we were able to show the team how we could provide data on payload, fuel burn and overall performance of each core machine on site, all using the Caterpillar VisionLink system.

“When we were awarded the project we went out and purchased a vast range of new Caterpillar machines, ranging from five to 50 tonne excavators and the latest ADTs. This included the Cat 730C Ejector Truck, which is fitted with CPM.  

“In practical terms, the purchase of the ejector with CPM was firstly all about productivity and safety, as ejector trucks do not have to stop and lift the skip to tip material. By ejecting on the move, these trucks can not only spread material and reduce dozer usage, they can also eject on slopes or uneven ground.

“So when it comes to productivity they are much more efficient, especially when you are able to see the payload on the machine from the in-cab monitor. This means you can also ensure the truck is not under or overloaded, optimising fuel burn per tonne on each cycle.

“It is this kind of information that is very useful for Balfour Beatty, as they can ensure the best possible carbon footprint for the site. Equally, they can see the impact of fleet matching with highly productive excavators, in this case the Cat 336F Hybrid Excavator, which also has CPM.

“No matter where the units are working on the new 20.1km dual carriageway, which runs from Attlebridge to Postwick, data can be sent and received in real-time. For our team onsite this data is sent via VisionLink into the Caterpillar online portal. This means that our managers and the Balfour Beatty team can login from any connected location. By being able to measure and calculate data, including the tonnes per load, tonnes per cycle, distance travelled per day, and how many litres of fuel a machine burns per hour, each day we can have a clear picture of where we are in the programme.

“This has allowed us to better manage the project as we know, through GPS, where the machines have been working and the amount of earth that has been moved. In addition, as we can see idle time against work time, we can change the fleet mix to potentially add an additional ADT to the cycle of longer tip runs, which can optimise the performance of the excavator.

“This data is not only useful for the management of the site, it also supports our operators, as we share information with them and jointly look at ways to improve performance. For example, because the in-cab monitor on the Cat 730C ejector unit displays payload weight and status, and external lights automatically signal the excavator operator when target payload is achieved, our operator teams all benefit from a safer working environment.

“By combining CPM with additional data relating to the health of machines, all of which comes through VisionLink, we also have a much better visibility of potential issues that will reduce uptime. For instance, if an air filter was blocked, we receive notifications via VisionLink and are able to get a Finning fitter straight on to site, before it creates a major issue. This alone has helped us reduce downtime significantly, especially as we are able to schedule servicing for preventative maintenance issues when the machines have finished operating.

“Each day we are learning more about the performance of equipment and this information is being shared with Balfour Beatty, so we can all see the benefits of technology driven project management. However, I think what has been really interesting with our latest purchase, is the positive feedback from operators using the ejector truck, especially beneath overhead cables. From a performance perspective we have also witnessed a dramatic increase in cycle times, not to mention the reduction in the use of more-expensive-to-run dozers. So even at this early stage, we already know we’ll be looking to invest in more connected Caterpillar machines and ejector trucks in the future.