Technology will be everywhere

In the latest in our series about earthworks technology and its impacts on the industry, Finning News caught up with digital experts from leading contractors Balfour Beatty and BAM, to get their views on the future use of software, hardware and new technologies on earthworks projects.


For Victor Snook, Head of Digital at Balfour Beatty UKCS, who recently completed an MSc in BIM Management, publishing a thesis on ‘Maximising Digital Data Usage for Project Risk Analysis and Management in the Construction Industry’, technology in the industry is moving forward at a pace. 

Victor: “Earthworks is following the rest of the sector and it’s definitely going digital. Now it’s about much more than the dirt and the future is all about removing paperwork and the digitalisation of construction managers. This process has already begun and will continue to develop through the use of onsite connected hardware technologies and cloud based software solutions. 

“As a main contractor, we are already working methodically through the development of a digital future, working with our supply chain partners to digitise processes and streamline data management. For example, where we use site location codes now, to enter digital information, in the future we will be able to fill in material delivery tickets, inspection tests, adjust plans, access models and much more, using GPS location data. This in-turn will combine with photography and drone data, which will sync to the cloud and use advanced software, to produce earthworks progress reports. 

“With all data from connected machines, devices and drones saved and sharable from the cloud, construction managers on earthworks projects in the future will have a much greater understanding of what work has been done, whether they are on programme and what next steps to take.” 

We know this is all going to be possible, as we are already working on selected projects where we have created data rich models. These models are accessible from iPads and use software that can work out the required cut and fill volumes, linking to surveying data, including 3D models from photo telemetry imagery and point cloud surveys. 

With drone data reducing the cost and improving the quality and speed of surveying, as we move forward, we will be able to look at yesterday’s work to plan for today, tomorrow and beyond. 

When we spoke to Digital Construction Manager for BAM Construction Ltd, Mark Taylor, he highlighted the need to avoid technology for technology’s sake and focus on solutions that have a positive and measurable impact on productivity and the de-risking of the sector. 

Mark: “At BAM we don’t think it is beyond the capabilities of the industry to digitise and de-risk at the same time, it is all about creating the right environments to make the investment and explore and understand the possibilities a new approach will deliver. 

“It really comes down to having a clear understanding of the digital work flows involved in a project. Consultants also have a massive part to play in this process, as for a long time they have been tasked with doing paper drawings, whereas now it is 3D models we want. These help us to work more efficiently with suppliers and solution providers, because everyone uses and updates one model. 

Following our conversations
 with Victor and Mark, we spoke to Mick Knight, our Head of Infrastructure & Construction Projects, about the uptake of technology. He highlighted the increased affordability and double-digit growth in connected and regularly monitored assets, as a major enabler for delivering data driven solutions. Mick: “With the reducing cost of technology and availability of factory fitted solutions, we are now seeing the opportunity for increased scalability, with real-time solutions that have only been used in mining, now being applied to earthworks projects. 

“This type of approach will enable stakeholders to address 
a whole range of cost and carbon issues, associated with activities like high levels of machine idle/waiting time and poor site haul road maintenance. Both these issues not only contribute to increased fuel burn, they are also responsible for increasing maintenance costs and lowering overall machine availability. 

“So being able to pinpoint locations where gear changes or engine revs are increasing on a haul road, using onboard data, you can combine a drone survey, to know
 exactly where
maintenance is
 required. Similarly, 
if your trucks are
 idling, there could
 be a fleet match
problem with the
 prime mover not
 having enough capacity; So in this case, you could upgrade the prime mover, or reduce the number of trucks, to optimise the fleet. 

“The real key to the successful use of data however, is to compile information from each asset into one central database, so that site managers can access live dashboards, or automated reports. This can include information on how earthworks are progressing, by overlaying data on the surface model, the health of assets onsite for maintenance planning, right down to the individual payload performance of a single asset. 

“One of the benefits of having information at their fingertips is the better connection site managers can have with the operator community onsite. Here the data captured will show the value of experience, through the measurement of productivity, accuracy, maintenance costs and therefore the true cost per tonne of material moved. 

But what about the future? 

With the industry already recognising the impact of current technologies, Finning News took the opportunity to question Mark and Victor about their thoughts on what the future may look like.

Mark Taylor from BAM: “For me, the digital earthworks journey is only just beginning, as the engineers and site managers of the future could well have navigator as their title. This is because the massive data sets that will be available in the future, will give them real-time decision-making capabilities,
to manage sites and programmes much more effectively. 

“The real-time aspect of digitalising construction is going to be very beneficial, but equally important is the overall collection and use of information, to improve future project outcomes. This relates to how we can use information and practical learning, to support the delivery and design of future projects. If we can record everything we do, we can also compare, contrast and benchmark different approaches, sharing this information with our supply chain, so everyone can learn from it. This will then help us make the best, most efficient decisions, particularly when it comes to earthmoving. 

Victor “For me, probably the most exciting next step in this data driven journey, will be the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning. With mobile equipment capable of using GPS and camera technologies, you could easily see machines collecting more useful site based data. 

“For example, if you collected site images from numerous devices, you could get software to look through hundreds
 of thousands of pictures, to identify trends or issues in real-time. What this would actually mean for earthworks projects is that the first level of risk analysis and reduction will be data driven and not subjective.” 

Concluding our latest article on technology, Mick Knight said: “What is clear from the insight gained from Balfour, BAM and talking to other main contractors, is the importance of how data is managed and different software packages talk to each other. It is also clear that the industry has to recognise the compatibility role that both onboard and retrofit hardware systems have
 to play, especially when it comes to ensuring uninterruptable site connectivity. Only then will we be able to ensure we have software and hardware solutions that work everywhere.”