The benefits of Digital construction are well known, but applying the concept is a different matter. The adoption of digital technologies are an opportunity to improve the construction industry, providing the ability to further improve safety and efficiency. However, there is still hesitation to fully embrace these technologies. The team delivering the west section of the Tideway project are developing and implementing digital techniques within their tunnelling environment.

The digital world is huge, including such a great many tools and applications that companies might find it difficult to fully embrace the technologies available. The BAM Nuttall, Morgan Sindall and Balfour Beatty joint venture is fully aware of that and so decided to concentrate on three areas for its work on Tideway. These areas are:

Planning by introducing 4D in day-to-day activities. The 4D process consists of converting a 3D model into to a 4D model. This is achieved by adding one more dimension that is time to a 3D model. Once the time is linked to the model it is able to reflect the amount of time need in the construction process. It makes the construction process even more clear for the different teams involved in project execution.

  • Visualisation / AR (use of the Microsoft Hololens with 4D planning and Microsoft Teams),
  • Data (day-to-day information collection and use).

The authors will take a deeper look into each area and how the joint venture has implemented these technologies and how they have assisted the tunnel activities.

Thames Tideway Tunnel

The Thames Tideway Tunnel is a 25.7km tunnel project running under the Thames River through central London. On completion, the tunnel will capture, store and transport almost all the combined sewage and rainwater discharges that currently overflow into the river.

The project began in 2016 and is scheduled to be finished in 2023. On completion, the tunnel will have an internal diameter of 7.2m and will run from a depth of 30m at Acton in the west of London for over 25.7km under central London down to a depth of 70m at Abbey Mills in the east. It will connect the most polluting combined sewer overflows (CSOs) via transfer tunnels and is expected to reduce the number of overflow events to a maximum of four per CSO per year at the time of commissioning, increasing gradually due to the effects of climate change and population growth.

4D Planning

Over the past 3 years, the joint venture delivering the west section has implemented and developed 4D planning as day to day tool to effectively plan and execute construction activities. Although the project contract specifies the use of Primavera P6, the planning and construction team realise the benefits of 4D planning.

Initially using 4D planning to create a ‘digital twin’ for the planned works and reinforce the contract clause 32 programme. They used 4D planning for the successful tunnel boring machine (TBM) launch.

The 4D planning model provided more than just time management. The TBM launch was a high-risk activity with an interaction of many trades, subcontractors and the 4D plan.

  • Safety – Plan for safety hazards and risks before you start work at the jobsite using dynamic spatial coordination analysis that identifies work area overlap, overhead crane risks, potential for obstruction delays.
  • Improve programme understanding by all – Reduce your programme variance with visual look ahead reports that identify activities, work areas, and equipment – view task list by contractor, work package.
  • Identify conflict between activities – It was difficult with the size of the current programme to identify potential location and or resource clashes.
  • Quality – 4D plan comprises of the model metadata, which allowed engineers to understand the specifications for the selected model.

Works were completed with no incidents, defect free and on programme. The use of 4D planning definitely assisted with achieving the ‘right first time’ project philosophy.

4D planning is more than a tool to displaying the sequence of works by combining the programme with a 3D model. BMB is also using the software to manage the project life by combining the data from the programme and integrating with PowerBi, which is a business analytics solution that lets you visualise your data and share insights across the project. That solution is to improve the data management, to create real time status and to improve decision-making.

The industry is full of data and we need to improve how we analyse and manage data effectively. Therefore we need to improve how we capture, use, analyse and understand data to enhance project performance. The 4D planning was previously used for visualisation but it had more to offer, so we reevaluated its use.

The joint venture currently monitors the actual TBM production rates against those planned. They have successfully implemented the ‘user field’, which is a function within the 4D software to write code so the programme identifies with a single update:

  • Total Number of segment / rings installed;
  • Remaining segments / rings – including estimated/planned projection;
  • Total amount of material remove;
  • Remaining material to be removed.

We have fully resourced the 4D programme with labour, plant, material and cost.

360 Field

Over the past 18 months the team in the west have been developing an electronic Planned Preventative Maintenance (PPM) system for the TBM. In the previous projects the TBM maintenance was normally completed by the mechanical and or electrical supervisor at a specific regime for example the hydraulic rams were checked once every 24hr. The checking was verified with a paper and filed in a folder within the office.

The Field 360 provided an innovative PPM system for the TBM based on an electronic system, which collects the information directly into the TBM through portable devices operated by people responsible for the maintenance in each shift.

Considering the complexity of the TBM, the PPM will involve a huge quantity of tasks, checklists, inspections corrective measurements, and so on. It is usually very difficult to organise these amount of papers in the TBM. The joint venture has issued the mechanical and electrical fitters with electronic devices, which allowed improved comprehensive maintenance checklists to be assigned to individual fitters consequently with the shift rotation.

PPMs were setup and structured by TBM location, mechanical and electrical systems and frequency of required checks. The PPM database was classified by each TBM system and component with a clear visualisation of all the maintenance records during the TBM operation. This database will include completed checklists, photos, and TBM parts replaced as part of the maintenance, issues history and corrective maintenance.

The additional benefit of using an electronic system, instead of one that is paper-based, is that the fitters can have access to a variety of supplementary documents to help them complete tasks such as drawings, specifications and operating manuals. The electronic system can also highlight incomplete tasks and outstanding issues between shifts.

A robust PPM system includes the contribution from an experienced Tunnelling team from BMB, from the TBM manufacturer Herrenknecht and from lessons learnt in previous TBM projects undertaken by JV parent companies.

The adoption of Field 360 will bring the following to assist the PPM process:

  • Cloud-based service for field management based on a full featured website that manages data and information that can be downloaded to a tablet and taken out to the field. BMB has set up a data infrastructure within the tunnel to allow the tablets to work underground.
  • Designed to be used by multiple members of project team: maintenance fitters, supervisors and engineers.
  • View documents and models, link field data back to models.
  • Manage issues and delegate to users.
  • Quality and safety checks.
  • Progress photos can be added to the Field 360 and immediately uploaded to the server.
  • Commissioning and handover.
  • Get real-time project insight through analytical reporting and dashboards.
  • The benefit of utilising Field 360 for a PPM over the traditional paper method.
  • Upskill the workforce to use digital tools to improve efficiency
  • Save time compiling reports, collating data, searching paper logs, including:
    Immediate safety issue flagging
    Easier to see and resolve issues – takes less time and reduces the time the TBM is out of operation
    Easier to hand over data at the end of the project
    User friendly
    No need to carry a stack of paper to fill out checksheets
    All the latest documents, checksheets, maintenance history at the user’s fingertips
    Complete checksheets for equipment that is not included in Herrenknecht’s documentation
  • Complete checksheets for other frequencies (weekly, monthly, every 200 main bearing hours, etc.)

Microsoft Hololens

Initial developments with the Microsoft Hololens were to visualise the 4D planning model through another platform, and it is the authors’ opinion that the Microsoft Hololens provided a great platform. The Microsoft Hololens is a holographic computer headset that lets you see, hear and interact with superimposed 3D holograms within a 360 real-life environment of your choice, such as a TBM. This is commonly known as ‘augmented reality’.

The main reason for adopting this technology is to reduce the down time and therefore cost.

The team has been developing the use of Hololens for the last 24 months, but mainly for visualisation purposes such as viewing 4D models for constructability and briefing the team. When BAM rolled out the Microsoft 365 suite, they noticed that TEAMS (a Microsoft 365 app) could integrate and communicate with the Hololens. And here, the journey began.

The issue with specialist equipment (for example, a TBM) is that it requires specialised people. These people tend not to be on site or even in the same country. When failures occur, it could take time before the machine is up and running again. That means lost money.

An engineer can wear the Microsoft Hololens whilst completing their checks on the TBM and collaborate with a support specialist, who uses a tablet and shares the view with the headset. The specialist can annotate and upload technical documents that are visible in real world space and the engineer can view this on real time.

The Hololens with remote assistance has bridged this distance and time gap and allow visual communications with a person on site and a specialist not on site. The joint venture has named this system Mobile Expert Augmented Communications (MEAC), which is important to solve problems more efficiently by working together from different locations.

The industry needs to embrace these technologies as it will assist with minimising overruns, reduce rework and ultimately improve safety on site. To achieve a successful implementation, we need to strategically manage technology and a large digitalisation requires leadership to fully understand the potential.

Construction must go digital and embrace new ways of delivering infrastructure – from planning to operations – digital technologies will touch the whole lifecycle.