BDA London Seminar – Precis

October 1, 2019

The recent British Drilling Association’s (BDA) seminar “What are the Risks of Rising Complacency about Geotechnics”,  which was held Thursday 31st October 2019 in London, was a great success.

The event attracted speakers from across not only the geotechnical sector, but also the ‘tech’ and academic sectors, with all sharing common goals of how you manage risk with the advance of new technologies such as AI and ever more progressive ways of working – as well as client demands.

The event commenced with a great scene setting presentation by Tim Chapman, Leader of Infrastructure at Arup, who spoke about the vast sums of money that had been spent on mitigating risk on the Crossrail project, but how recent delays had served only to distract attention to other more project-related issues. Tim commented on how historically, as many as 50% of projects experienced delays directly related to ground conditions but highlighted that this figure is reducing and whilst still occurring, far less frequently. That said Tim was keen to stress that ground conditions will rarely if ever be predictable and that we will never fully understand, which means the inherent and unavoidable presence of risks.

Staying with the challenge of risk, Derek Butcher of Network Rail gave a client-side perspective with his presentation “A look into the geotechnical pitfalls when delivering works on the railway and how we can prevent them”. Engaging and thought-provoking, there was much to be taken away from his discussion.

Patrick Cox of AECOM delved into the more nitty gritty of issues with his presentation about “Major Projects – Procurement of “. Specifically, Patrick examined value and how more SI alone isn’t always the answer to risk mitigation.

Taking the baton from Patrick was an interesting presentation on “Monitoring”, given by Rory O’Rourke of DATUM, who spoke about how during geotechnical construction not all risk is known to the contractor or designer; observing the performance of slopes and retained structures by visual methods is far from adequate in many circumstances. He proposed how measurements and qualification of on-going risk using monitoring systems, can provide forensic and immediate answers, to ensure progress is uninterrupted and avoid potential catastrophe.

Mike De Freitas of Imperial College, spoke about “Ground Models”, examining the input needed to improve the Ground Model that’s going to be required by the revised EC7 and the importance of getting training to those who will be able to enter RoGEP as Technician and Practitioner grades.

Looking a little outside the geotechnical box, but still applicable, Simon Ralphs of Telematicus, presented a thought-provoking topic about “Achieving more with your data using AI”. Simon gave an insight into current tools and techniques for managing “big data” and how this data can be used to better understand operational risks. With some practical examples of how operational processes can be improved, he showed how driving risks can be better managed using AI approaches, and costs like motor insurance premiums reduced.

Concluding the formal presentations section, Derek Egan of Remedy Geotechnics, gave an interesting presentation titled “Provision of Ground Information for the Design of Piles in London Clay – A Review of Current Practice”. The complexity of “London Clay” is well known, and Derek’s topic was very well received. Post presentation, much of the discussion continued into the networking session, where more of the debate continued.

As Tim Chapman commented in his opening address, “the ground engineering industry must continue to press clients to mitigate against ground risk rather than build contingencies to deal with it should problems arise”. A good message to take away from the day!

If you would like to know more about the next seminar in this series, then make a note of the date – 26th February 2020, in Manchester.

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