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talking point

Despite continued innovation and development, site investigation still has an image problem.There is one solution, says Eric Zon - education, education, education.

How can clients be persuaded to use cone penetration testing more often for soil investigation? To quote UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, the answer is 'education, education, education' Cone penetration testing companies need to recognise and respond to this.

They need to put a huge effort into publishing textbooks for students in higher education, they should tour universities and visit clients giving lectures and presentations to inform them of the benefits of the methods.

Cone penetration testing is one of the most versatile methods of soil investigation.Without disturbing the ground, it can provide information about soil type and geotechnical parameters such as shear strength, density, elastic modulus and rate of consolidation.

A cone penetration test can also be seen as a small scale test pile.

It is one of the best and most cost-effective ways for designing piled foundations.Even the settlement of piles can be linked to CPT-data, especially in sand.

The technique is undergoing continual development.A variety of new probes are now available to the engineer to gain a more detailed picture of the ground for a variety of applications.There are seismic cones, resistivity probes, push-in vanes, soil samplers, cones for hydraulic conductivity, chemical sounding probes and hydrocarbon probes.

One of the latest innovations is a video cone, where for the first time investigators can see for themselves what is going on 'down there' In the UK, the problem of unexploded ordnance, especially Second World War bombs, is becoming increasingly important, especially with increased development of previously used inner city sites.Clients appear unwilling to invest in this type of ground investigation - even though they are more than willing to invest in methods for detecting bombs where there is a instant risk of explosion.

Even for unexploded ordnance, however, and despite the CDM regulations, developers have been known to bury their heads in the sand.

As we all know, poor site investigation can ultimately lead to the collapse of structures.Clearly with careful planning and investigation this is as avoidable as bomb explosions.

But site investigation's poor image prevails.It is still perceived by some as the lowest of the low - why?

The consensus is still that clients do not want to spend money on site investigation and will minimise the number of sampling points to reduce costs.When problems do occur due to unforeseen ground conditions during construction, panic ensues.

It is our role as an industry to convince clients that adequate site investigation, be it for ground investigation, unexploded ordnance or engineering in general, is a worthwhile investment.If clients saw us more as a partner and involved us earlier, we could help define the scope of work and prove how we can add value.

But who should we be addressing? Although the client is the commissioner of the work, in practice the client is the consultant, often a structural engineer or an architect.It is the responsibility of these firms to make risk assessments and advise their clients.

The site investigation industry must also take responsibility for this and advise clients directly of the importance of adequate investigations.For example, climate change, now being experienced in the UK, can increase the risk of using shallow foundations.They can be used, but not without adequate site investigation.How is it that insurance companies take on risks without demanding this?

There are a number of ways in which the site investigation sector could promote itself:

lPrepare for the future by putting a real effort into education of students and clients lemphasise the importance of site investigation for 'healthy' construction lpromote the positive cost effects of site investigation to the construction industry at large lemphasise the cost to society of poor site investigation lpromote the site investigation sector as an exciting industry to work in, to encourage more students to take relevant courses luse modern technology to keep clients informed and make reports and services more accessible.

linvest in new techniques and equipment.

If we go deeper in our efforts to promote the site investigation sector, I am convinced the only way is up!

lEric W Zon is managing director of UK site investigation contractor and cone penetration testing specialist Lankelma CPT.

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