Practice Makes Perfect

May 7, 2018

Infrastructure projects, such as roads, ports, highways, airports, together with power generation have a direct link to the economic growth of UK Plc, and given the recent period of recession few would doubt its importance in supporting the future UK economy. With all projects built pretty much from below the ground up, projects such as the HS2 high-speed railway, present many opportunities for the drilling sector. The sheer scale and wide geographic nature of infrastructure projects also has the ability to bring work out of the often economically favoured regions, which means opportunities for the drilling sector are also wide geographically too.

Whilst the investment in infrastructure projects is welcome, companies looking to take advantage must adapt to the new trading environment and in particular the evolved procurement processes, with subcontractors now having to demonstrate more than simply a capability to do a required job and to a price.

Today contractors are required to demonstrate an understanding of the unique challenges of specific projects – such as working in and around existing road and rail infrastructure – in addition to being able to prove commitment to health and safety, security and the wellbeing of employees.

Understanding the needs of main contractors has also jumped to the fore, with trust and good communication essential, and with digital data now being required through all processes and presentations in BIM format and all in real time. That said, there are still issues present with the procurement process, which for example still places costs, or reduction of, ahead of quality, and this theme was explored throughout the presentations and contributed to some lively post presentation debate.

Keen to prepare its members to take full advantage of any infrastructure work, the British Drilling Association (BDA) has been hosting a series of seminars to examine many of the issues, such as the latest best practice and quality. Its most recent seminar ‘Emerging Best Practice in Ground Investigation for Linear Infrastructure Projects’ was held 7th February 2018, at Manchester United’s football ground in Manchester, and brought together speakers from all areas, including major clients, consultants, academics and contractors.

The presentations took delegates on a journey from the past through to the present, with a view of the future of ground investigation work on infrastructure projects. With real-world case studies augmenting the presentations, and current research into best practice, the stage was set for lively debate and discussion.

Jane Collins, Arup’s Associate Director – Geotechnics, and the event’s keynote speaker, set the scene for both the event and the present infrastructure cycle. Jane went into detail about the complex interplay between different agencies and their involvement in shaping the rollout of future infrastructure projects, agencies such as the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), which has produced the National Infrastructure Assessment (NIA) that analyses the UKs long-term economic infrastructure needs, outlines a strategic vision over the next 30 years and sets out recommendations for how identified needs should be met.

Jane also gave an in-depth look at the what Infrastructure means for the UK and the many challenges demand brings with it. Jane spoke about the opportunities infrastructure projects present, what is in the pipeline in terms of project and spend and why linear infrastructure – rail, road water and energy – are so important.

Emerging best practice was also covered and how the construction sector needs to change to produce data that is clear, useful and of value. New trends in ground investigation were also covered, such as those of the BGS, and the need for a better way to collect and access, requiring new methods that are quicker, quieter and cause less disturbance, whilst delivering better information. Jane concluded her presentation with the impact of the digital revolution and how it can work for the ground investigations industry.

Simon Leeming, Infrastructure & Utilities Lead – Business Development at the British Coal Authority, talked risk and its management and commenced with a look at the spread of its current portfolio, in particular how it is managing its historic liabilities, with the legacy of mining being as Simon put it, “…the effects of mining legacy is indiscriminate. It does not care what is on the surface. It is our job to manage these and keep the public safe.”

Simon’s presentation outlined the sheer scale of historical mining operations in Britain, an estate estimated at £3 billion – and obviously the potential risk this sub-surface legacy poses can extend to almost any infrastructure project. Sinkholes, or as Simon put it ‘another mine shaft collapse’, is a real risk and must be factored and its risk assessed on any infrastructure project. The British Coal Authority’s ability to provide a range of technical services including, risk assurance, site optimisation and evaluation, CDM and SHE support, site investigation design / reporting, remedial work design / reporting, technical document review, mining and natural geological reports and core logging were detailed and how they can be applied to safely manage the risk to the infrastructure sector, bringing certainty to the ‘Legacy that lies beneath.’

Caroline Rookes and Richard Clark of Cementation Skanska, presented a main contractors perspective on best practice in ground investigation for linear infrastructure projects. Specifically, they highlighted the importance of site investigation (SI) for the design of deep foundations on linear infrastructure projects, reviewing the specialist contractor’s perspective of SI, together with their recent experience of linear projects. They emphasised the importance of carrying out an appropriate SI at an early stage in any project as it significantly reduces ground-related risks and enables much greater certainty of costs through the tender process.

The pair went on to discuss how contractors use SI from element design (piles, ground anchors, cuttings, soil nails and specialist grouting), as well as for determining the constructability of project (drilling techniques, risks and programme), and the roles it plays (as a main contractor in deep foundations work). As well as looking at the many project buildability challenges, such as expected versus often real ground conditions, they spoke about AGS aided design and how it can be linked into its BIM model and how it uses the data to generate a table of pile lengths from the model reporting PPL to rock level for each pile.

Overhead line projects were also discussed and the issues they present, as well as the common challenges they have with site investigations.

Holger Kessler, of the British Geological Society ( BGS) spoke about the use of 3D-models to help visualise the ground beneath and how modelling the Earth’s subsurface can help understanding of the relationship between geology and our environment.

Holger also spoke of the national geological model of the UK’s subsurface the BGS is developing and how it can enhance features such as faults, changes in thickness, tilted units and subsurface contacts. He also described how the BGS has developed a set of online tools to enable the user to interrogate the subsurface geology; drill a virtual borehole or draw a virtual cross-section or horizontal section through our sample models using the virtual borehole and section viewer. Its aid to SI was highlighted.

Concluding the presentations section was the very welcome consultant’s view and Nick Haynes of Mott Macdonald provided this, kicking off his presentation with a conceptual ground model highlighting what you should be expecting to find on a site investigation, rather than going in expecting the unknown. The presentation went on to the identification of geohazards and the level of geotechnical risk from initial terrain evaluation to complex landslide forms identified through systematic mapping. Assessing natural variability as covered in detail, together with the major challenges it presents, before moving on to linear infrastructure projects using a number of real-world projects to illustrate requirements, construction issues and environmental constraints.

Raised throughout the presentations, the issue of the present GI procurement process adopted by number of organisations was discussed, Specifically, where its present form all too often see quality compromised by the pursuit of lowest price. The increasing lack of procurer engagement with consultants was considered and how this too is impacting negatively on the quality of work.

With many delegates expressing the view that their GI work is seen as little more than a box ticking exercise, there were calls for a complete overhaul of the procurement process, where GI is no longer classed as commodity, but as an important tool that reduces genuine risk, through the generation of real and useable data. It was felt that that a new approach would benefit the entire GI sector bringing with it the respect, it rightly deserves as well as address the often-poor reputation past bad procurement has delivered.

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