13 August 2020
By Michael Walsh By Michael Walsh

The Revolution Ground Engineering Has Been Waiting for.

A long time ago we realised that we can generate vast, vast amounts of data. But we’ve never really used it… until now.

Using sophisticated technological solutions, we are starting to gain the capabilities to harness and utilise big data.

Unsurprisingly, some markets have been slower to adapt to this new data-rich, insight-led way of working. However, the ground engineering sector is catching up and digitalisation is ready to be the next industry game-changer.

Big data gives ground engineering companies the ability to easily combine analytical tools and have site information available in real time, enabling contractors to make decisions as they go, rather than guesswork or changing things retrospectively.

The Deep Foundations Institute is one group championing the adoption of digitalisation, particularly within the project information management space. I spoke to their former chairman, Massimo Mucci, who is also the Director of Research and Development for Keller Foundations, based in Dallas, Texas. 

Massimo Mucci, Director of Research and Development for Keller Foundations.

Massimo is an advocate of digitalisation and the use of Project Information Management Systems (PIMS) which collect data, organize it, assemble it, analyse it, present it, share it, preserve it and interpret it for future use.

Data analytics improves safety, quality and performances – we’ve seen that proven already in multiple industries.

From a very general standpoint, the Project Information Management Systems (PIMS) are making their steps into the construction industry.

I'm aware of several initiatives that will eventually support the idea of a global, unified, smart container for all the data and information generated on a construction or foundation job site, of any size.

One of the most significant changes we’ve seen in PIMS has been advanced analytics, which is now much more about interpreting data and providing actionable insights rather than just presenting it.

Harnessing the power of machine learning, this approach can predict excavation rates based on geology and analyse relationships between metrics to find efficiencies, sustainable practices and improve quality and safety of many construction activities.

Massimo was also excited to talk about virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) too. This technology allows industry professionals to access data that they wouldn’t be able to physically and has revolutionised the onsite experience.

VR hardware like the Facebook Oculus let’s its users virtually walk or fly through models of dams, structures, galleries, walls and the ground surface. When coupled with near real-time data, these VR models can approximate the current position of a drill rig, recent piezometric surfaces and other transient data.

Virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality allow us to retrieve information while walking on the project, or create real-time visual simulations supported by AI engines. This opens barely foreseen scenarios. 

MR devices are enhancing experience too. For example, the Microsoft Hololens allows proposed or other non-existent features to be superimposed on reality. Meanwhile, AR allows data attributes or other items associated with real features to be accessed, visualized and shared with remote users.

As this digital trend evolves and more companies adopt these technologies, the advantages will send shockwaves through the industry.

PIMS will help owners with proof of validity of the work performed (whenever possible in real-time), reduction in submittal review durations to gain schedule benefits and to have a complete data set of construction performed.

Engineers, designers, and consultants will be able to visualize data, evaluate data gathered and confirm that design intent is being met. Visual advantages will also impact contactors and help inform them on the progress of construction.

Equipment will improve too, with data supporting the work of manufacturer suppliers and service providers.

With all these improvements and more detailed quality control, it goes without saying that data will help us build higher infrastructures that are more durable, sustainable, quicker to construct and cheaper.

While the potential is exciting, Massimo was keen to remind me that this digital revolution is only just beginning.

We’ve still got a way to go. I'm not expecting big changes coming from contractors yet.

The early adoption is likely to be from project owners and designers who require more real-time information and transparency to help them react and make informed decisions throughout the life of the project. They’ve got the most to gain from this, so it’s likely for them to start it.

If you’d like to talk about this article or are interested in taking the next step in your career, please email me at Mike.Walsh@cm-industrial.com.

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