This story features in Unearthed: The Age Of Data

Smarter use of data should benefit construction projects at all scales, but it’s not an advantage that’s always passed down the chain. What about more modest schemes such as small and medium-sized housing estates? Chris Hibbert of UK-based foundation and piling engineers Roger Bullivant explains how they are successfully applying data at this level, but why more could still be done.

What do you do for Roger Bullivant?
“As Plant Design and Manufacturing Manager I manage a small design team of engineers designing our own piling and foundation equipment and associated tooling. Having our own bespoke machinery allows us to optimise our designs in terms of machine size, transport weight and ground pressure.

“This makes our machines ideally suited to the small to medium-sized housing sites on which we work as well as the larger industrial sites. We can also rapidly develop our equipment in response to suggestions and observations received from their use and maintenance in the field.”

What changes have you seen in your sector of the industry?
“Regarding foundation engineering specifically, the biggest change must be the more widespread use of instrumentation and digital data collection for remote access and monitoring.

“Roger Bullivant Limited have used instrumentation on rotary rigs for years but have only recently started to use this technology on our driven rigs. In the past two and half years we have generated over 50,000 pile records from just six machines.”

“Collaboration is getting easier on large infrastructure projects through the steady implementation of BIM, but BIM isn’t filtering down to the smaller construction sites such as housing.”

So how are you turning that to your advantage?
“All our new machines are being fitted with instrumentation which enables real-time monitoring of the piling process. We are incorporating this data into our Big Data platform, which can collate, interrogate and present a range of standard and user-defined dashboards and reports.

“This will put the data in full view of our employees so they can see real-time progress reports at any time on any device. We are also looking at incorporating other machine data into this system to monitor engine performance, fuel use and key hydraulic pressures.

Does better technology make for better collaboration?
“Collaboration is getting easier on large infrastructure projects through the steady implementation of BIM, but BIM isn’t filtering down to the smaller construction sites such as housing where Roger Bullivant does most of its work.

“Additionally, many housing sites don’t have significant Site Investigation (SI) available. However, this isn’t stopping us developing the use of Leapfrog as we are also using it to model three dimensional records of our piles. We can use these to identify changes in ground conditions and to create a searchable database of our previous contracts.

“Another area of enormous potential would be the use of AGS data, which is an electronic format for Site Investigation (SI) records. It has been routinely created by numerous SI companies for years. This allows the data to be input in a fraction of the time. However, this data is often not provided to piling companies due to issues of ownership. Moreover, when it is provided it doesn’t always include accurate co-ordinates for the boreholes.

“If there was better collaboration in these areas I think we would see rapid and significant improvements in both time savings and accuracy due to the removal of potential errors from manual data transcription.”

Roger Bullivant has started using Leapfrog Works. What has this enabled you to do?
“Leapfrog has demonstrated the possibilities available to us for creating sub-surface models based on our pile records and available Site Investigation (SI). As I mentioned earlier, this would be massively improved by the availability of AGS formatted Site Investigation records.

“It’s a very clear and exciting way for us to present our data – providing we can automatically transfer that data from our instrumentation system at or near real time with little or no interaction.

“If this can be achieved then over a relatively short-time the majority of the UK could be modelled and continually developed to higher and higher resolution. Thus, allowing our project estimates and pile designs to be refined further and further. Better data equals better decisions, but only if we use it!

What key challenges do you think the foundation engineering and wider civil engineering industries currently face?
“Health and Safety is always an important driver and environmental issues are another major challenge but one key influence is understanding how to leverage the rapidly changing, innovative technologies such as Big Data, 3D modelling, additive manufacturing, virtual and augmented reality and the use of drones which can all come under the broad heading of the 4th Industrial Revolution.

“I believe we have made some impressive progress using Leapfrog over the past few months, we have obtained SI data in AGS format for a contract we are tendering for and have very quickly created a 3D geological model based on these boreholes. We have also created a 3D scale model of the individual geological layers for the site using our in-house 3D printer which we will use to fine-tune our pile design and to help demonstrate the three-dimensional nature of the geology beneath this site.

“I believe there is a paradigm shift in terms of generating, collating, interpreting and utilizing the huge amount of data that our businesses generate. Technology is changing fast and we need to keep pace.”

Chris Hibbert,
Plant design and Manufacturing Manager
Roger Bulivant