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CEA: Ignoring innovation hampers financial gains

Civil engineers are ignoring technologies that could help deliver huge productivity and cost savings, says Nick Ground.

In today’s tough economic climate the pressure is on civil engineers to deliver projects to tight deadlines and even tighter budgets. You would think, therefore, that they would be eager to adopt new processes and products to help them deliver on time and to budget. My experience is that this is not the case, and that civil engineering is very loath to change, clinging to outdated methods and machinery.

Why does the UK lag behind continental Europe in the adoption of advanced technologies that are proved to save time and money?

A combination of building information modelling (BIM) and automated machine control linked to global positioning systems (GPS), global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) and on-site laser levelling systems is a proven formula to increase productivity by up to 50%, reduce the fuel consumption of earthmoving and paving equipment by up to 40%, reduce expensive site surveys and increase “right first time” earthworks and paving.

The process is relatively straightforward. Using BIM software, civil engineers develop a highly accurate, digital, 3D model of a site. The contractor loads a variant of the 3D model directly into the on-board computer of a GPS-equipped earthmoving machine, paver or roller. Then, using GPS, GNSS and on-site laser positioning systems, the operator compares his real-time location with the desired 3D site model, completing the task to previously unattainable levels of accuracy.

These two developments are helping to introduce a new age of construction automation, one that promises to change the surveying, civil engineering and construction landscape forever. And yet in the UK the adoption rates for these technologies are far lower than in continental Europe.

Before the widespread adoption of GPS machine control, civil engineers created designs as 2D paper documents. Technicians, surveyors and contractors interpreted these documents to produce lists of cuts, fills, and staking co-ordinates. During excavation and grading, every time the equipment operator bumped a stake or completed a couple of passes, the field team would have to repeat the entire process, creating multiple opportunities for error at every step. The size, complexity, and aggressive pace of today’s projects only add to that risk.

In today’s challenging economic climate, streamlining a business and increasing efficiency is a critical success factor. BIM and GPS machine control systems can help you do both.

That’s why it is important that the UK civil engineering fraternity wakes up to the opportunities presented by these new technologies.

  • Nick Ground is president of the Construction Equipment Association

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