Declan Byrne explains how by integrating every stage of the workflow with the help of hardware and software, and connecting these through the cloud, it is possible for engineers to access the real-time data they need on site, whenever they need it

Civil

Advances in digital technologies are revolutionising engineering workflows in construction. Declan Byrne explains how by integrating every stage of the workflow with the help of hardware and software, and connecting these through the cloud, it is possible for engineers to access the real-time data they need on site, whenever they need it.

The construction industry has reached a pressure point with demand for infrastructure. It has been established that $60 trillion needs to be spent across the world in order to keep up with population growth and decaying infrastructure, but it is projected that there is only capacity for an investment of $24 trillion.

In Ireland specifically, analysis conducted by the Construction Industry Federation, and DKM consultants and Construction Information Services following the 2018 budget, states there is a €350 million investment available per year up to 2021 to invest in new infrastructure projects.

40% of funding not being spent on critical infrastructure


However, the same report revealed that this annual investment could be absorbed by just one critical project, meaning 40 per cent of the funding is not being spent on critical infrastructure, such as road and rail.

The gap between infrastructure requirement and available investment is placing huge demand on the construction industry. Alternative solutions need to be found in order to help close this gap. One way of doing this is in evolving the way the construction industry actually approaches projects, from planning and design, to the building phase.

Take the traditional approach to measuring a site in the planning stages, for example. It’s typical for engineers to use paper plans as their main method of working.

In order to collect data, teams will visit and manually measure various different points on the site, manually operating total stations and collating all of the information on a USB stick before taking it back to the office.

While tried and tested, and still often relied upon today, this method of gathering data is not advanced enough to meet the expectations of tenders, or to keep up with the growing demand for infrastructure.

When considering that much construction expense can be avoided, whether it is due to unnecessary mistakes, ineffective planning, excess materials or poor communication, there is a huge opportunity to make the investment that is available go much further.

By adopting more streamlined ways of working, and using advanced technologies alongside digital construction tools, the construction process from start to end can become much more streamlined and efficient in terms of cost, time and communication.

Increased use of digital technology in delivery of key public works projects


Many countries have already started to evolve towards a digital approach to construction through the adoption of Building Information Modelling (BIM) – and, in many cases, have even issued mandated benchmarks for contractors working on new projects.

While Ireland isn’t currently one of these countries, the recent BIM Strategy issued by the National BIM Council of Ireland last December sets out a roadmap towards to increased use of digital technology in the delivery of key public works projects that are funded through the public capital programme.

This government backing of BIM within the EU is pushing professionals across the construction industry to move into a more efficient way of working, allowing engineers specifically to introduce a more collaborative and sophisticated planning stage for every build.

With this adoption of digital construction through BIM and 3D models, it is possible to move from a two-dimensional approach to a six-dimensional one that considers planning, design, progress monitoring, budget and lifetime management.

In doing so, there is a much greater focus on sophisticated data sharing at every stage of the process – using intuitive software and the cloud.

Reducing the amount of time that engineers need to spend onsite


From the very initial site inspection, even before the planning process has taken place, advanced technology can be used to collect much richer data that can help inform later stages of any build. The use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), for example, makes it possible to quickly and easily gather aerial, survey-grade topography of the site.

It is then possible to take this data, process and analyse it and create a geotagged digital image of the entire site and the assets within it that feeds into the 3D model. Not only does this reduce the amount of time that engineers need to spend onsite, but it can also assist procurement in the planning and bidding stages.

In the land survey phase, using technology such as robotic total stations alongside Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) receivers means users can work out the precise location of a site or landmark on the earth’s surface.

Bouncing data off the satellites, the GNSS receivers build a digital map of the site and, where it is on the earth’s surface, to a high degree of accuracy. By supplementing the technology with a local network too, surveyors can eliminate down time and setup errors, while ensuring consistent co-ordinate control.

Engineers process data before feeding insights into 3D model of site


By working from one integrated software system such as Topcon’s MAGNET, this data can then be collated, communicated with the team in the office and then processed by engineers before feeding the insights into the 3D digital model of the site.

Any changes to the initial design of the model will be modified based on the data that has been shared – for example, if there isn’t enough room for a crane on the site, another piece of equipment or location can be agreed ahead of time.

The benefits of adopting this approach to the planning stages of construction are vast. From the offset, errors can be identified through precise, rich and accurate data – therefore reducing any potentially costly time delays or mistakes once the build begins.

Furthermore, this rich data gives engineers a much greater understanding of the project and the equipment or materials that need to be used before money is spent. As a result, budgets can be tracked or modified in real-time, and off-site investors or stakeholders can be updated with highly accurate budgets during the planning stages.

Using one 3D digital model that all parties are feeding into means there is a greater level of communication throughout the build among subcontractors, stakeholders and the engineers.

During the build


The advances seen across the industry don’t stop at the collection of data in the initial stages of a project, but can also have a positive impact on the way that it is being used throughout the entire process.

Again, by connecting the office and site through software and hardware that’s integrated via the cloud, engineers can effectively manage the construction process in real-time from a remote location.

Machine control is one such example of modern construction equipment having a significant positive impact on project delivery. This technology uses GPS data and 3D models to help contractors dig earthworks more accurately. Precise positioning information of the bucket is communicated to a screen in the cab via satellite data, giving an accurate view of the machine’s current position compared with the desired result outlined on the engineers’ plans.

Not only does this help avoid potential additional costs from human error and over-excavation, it also makes earthwork processes much more precise and removes the need for the engineer to physically be on site.

Technology can also help make data-sharing between site and office much more streamlined


The technology can also help make data-sharing between site and office much more streamlined. Web-based systems, such as Topcon’s Sitelink3D, connect engineers to the machine operatives on site via the cloud.

In doing so, changes in the proposed design for a building, or the layout of a new street, can be fed straight to the people driving the excavation equipment, in real time, minimising the risk of delays or errors.

Furthermore, engineers can also alert machine operatives to any issues with earthworks levels, or any alterations in the layout of the work, so they can rectify the problem quickly and efficiently, without impacting on the timely delivery of the project.

Summary


If the construction sector is to meet the demands that a growing need for infrastructure is putting on its shoulders, there needs to be a widespread adoption of modern workflows and more automated technology – from conception, to planning, to construction.

As more countries embrace digital construction applications through the likes of formalised BIM strategies, moving from a two-dimensional approach, to a six-dimension one has never been so critical.

In doing so, the job of collecting, processing, analysing and sharing data between the office, site and off-site stakeholders becomes much more streamlined and, ultimately, helps reduce costs and time delays on every project.

For more information about Topcon, please visit: www.topconpositioning.com/en-ie

Author: Declan Byrne, technical specialist, Topcon Ireland

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Advances in digital technologies are revolutionising engineering workflows in construction. Declan Byrne explains how by integrating every stage of the workflow with the help of hardware and software, and connecting these through the cloud, it is possible for engineers to access the real-time data they need on site, whenever...