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Recorded delivery

Siris, Stent Foundations'new pile instrumentation and management system, is set to improve the efficiency of the foundation contractor's piling operations.

After two years of development, foundation contractor Stent Foundations has introduced the Stent Integrated Rig Instrumentation System, or Siris.

In a nutshell, the pile instrumentation and management system was designed to speed up the process of retrieving recorded pile data from continuous flight auger rigs. This offers real time monitoring of the piling process, allowing rapid feedback and reaction to events on site.

Elements include sensors and instrumentation on the rig, an on-board computer, a laptop and server at the office end, all linked by the Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) network.

Siris is being put to work by Stent on its CFA piling for the mid-Kent contract of Section One of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. The 74km, £1.7bn project, for client Rail Link Engineering, is due to open in 2003, reducing travel times to London to just 35 minutes.

The philosophy behind Siris is engrained in Stent's development, explains managing director Graham Wren. The firm, he says, has been committed to a development improvement programme since 1992, in line with much of the industry, to become more client focused. 'There has been an increase in direct negotiation with clients to win work. About 20% of work is now in that form and we are trying to get up to 50% to 60% in the next year or two.'

Part of this change involved demonstrating commitment to improvement through research and development, he says.

The firm carried out several research projects, partially funded by EPSRC under the Innovative Manufacturing Initiative scheme, into the application of information technology to piling. These included the use of GPS, rig automation and the use of object-oriented techniques for integrating automation into the construction process.

Stent was already developing a computerised estimating system and wanted to obtain accurate production data directly from the rigs working on site.

Assessment of what was needed and investigation of the other systems on the market, along with the change in business attitude made in-house development of a pile management system inevitable.'It was simply not right to purchase a new system, 'says Wren.

Siris developer Jason Scott explains that the main difference from other systems is the management and transfer of data.The problem with systems bought off the shelf, he says, is that a plot is produced 'but you don't know what the software has done to the data.While the software is good at producing plots, it doesn't help with managing the piling process.'

Development had a number of aims. First, the new system was to be a process tool that could help the rig operator carry out piling more efficiently, without restricting operations. 'A long time was spent developing the hardware, 'Scott says.

To this end, the screen is bright, clear, visible even in direct sunlight and touch sensitive. It is mounted at eye level and the software is designed to lead the driver through the process. 'It takes five to six minutes for the driver to get used to it, 'he says.

An 'open format' was needed to give a general purpose record where the data was clear and extensible. 'With proprietary systems, information is stored in different formats, ' Scott explains. This means that proprietary software is needed to produce the necessary plots and information can only be easily supplied to the client on paper.

'We would have liked to adopt a standard format but those available are not detailed enough, 'Scott says, 'so we set up our own.'Data is stored in a text form, similar to the internet language HTML, that can be read in its native format or imported into other software, such as a spreadsheet package, for analysis. This, says Scott, should encourage electronic exchange of data.

As well as recording process parameters involved in CFA piling, such as auger depth and rotation and concrete pressure and volume, the system also had to provide data for Stent's own purposes - for production, estimating, design and management.So Siris also records detailed rig activity, including delays, breakdowns and maintenance scheduling.

This should give better under- standing of site processes, identifying potential bottlenecks and avoiding problems, leading to increased productivity and reduced costs.Scott says this is particularly valuable on sites where complex sequencing is needed, for example in secant wall construction.

A standard industrial PC is fitted to the rig, running Windows NT. Data can be viewed graphically on screen and then can be saved on disk or transferred to the site engineer's computer or directly to the office using a GSM modem.

The data is then imported into Excel for analysis of pile construction details and to extract performance and productivity information.

While engineers can dial straight into the rig to monitor work or send new data to modify the piling using the GSM network, there are still interference and coverage problems, so disks are more commonly used. But when the network becomes more reliable, response times to problems on site or any design changes will be even faster.This interactive process will 'change the way sites are managed', Scott says.

To begin with, pile logs will usually be supplied to the client in paper form, but it is hoped that as clients become more familiar with the system, data will increasingly be passed in electronic format - by disk, e-mail or posted on an internet site updated automatically by the Siris database.

The firm intends to modify its management and estimating procedures to take full advantage of the facilities that Siris offers.

Ultimately, it says, this will result in an uninterrupted flow of information in electronic format throughout the pile production process. This should reduce paperwork and shorten estimating and design times.

Wren says that integration of the system was planned so that it would fit in with the way sites were working, with more facilities brought on line as development proceeded.

And while Siris was designed purely for CFA rigs, the firm is now looking into how the same principles can be employed on other piling techniques, he says.

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