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Technology: Taking the innovation initiative

Finding opportunity where others see risk is keeping Keltbray ahead of the game

Formed in 1976 as a groundworks and civil engineering contractor, Keltbray added piling to its activities in 2009 and concrete superstructure construction in 2016.

Along the way, it has developed a strong reputation for tackling some of the riskiest parts of a project, such as excavation, demolition, decommissioning and façade retention. Entering the new-build arena has added an interesting dimension to the firm, helping it to see the bigger picture and making it better at spotting the gaps.

So when Keltbray was installing a 1.2km secant piled wall at the Chelsea Barracks redevelopment site in 2014, and many of its engineers were working late into the night just to type up handwritten notes, Keltbray Piling managing director Stuart Norman instinctively felt that something had to change.

The practice seemed at odds with how the industry was moving towards more streamlined digital working. 

With big piling jobs on the horizon and the pressure to work to tight programmes, Norman took the decision to cut out the pencil-and-notebook stage so that data could be inputted into a tablet on site instead.

The device would synchronise with a cloud-based database that would be accessible to the entire project team, providing real-time accurate data from site. With aspirations to develop the system into a more comprehensive management tool, Norman discovered that there was nothing off-the-shelf that would do the job and Keltbray would have to engage with a software design company to produce something bespoke.

“We wanted to improve efficiency and capture the flow of information as it happened,” recalls Norman. “We also wanted to avoid double-handling data, which can lead to mistakes.”

kips tablet

kips tablet

KIPS helps link the site with the whole team

Creating the Keltbray Integrated Piling System (KIPS) involved not only developing the software, but the practical side of selecting a tablet of sufficient memory and battery life and which was the right size to view information, yet small enough to be portable. There was also the harsh site environment to contend with. It took 18 months before a working version could be used in the field.

“This first version allowed rotary bored pile logs to be entered, which could also be synchronised with the designer’s pile schedules,” says Norman.

By recording data as piling was underway, such as shaft depth or concrete volumes, and checking against the schedule, real-time “conformance” and “nonconformance” reporting became possible.

All too often, the experience on site was that errors were being made or anomalies discovered too late for designers to react in a meaningful way and this would impact on cost and programme, says Norman.

“We set out to overcome basic errors, such as piles built in the wrong position, just because the correct drawings hadn’t been issued to the piling contractor on the day. Using KIPS also meant that there would be fewer problems further down the line.”

He cites the situation where piling is often underway while superstructure design is continuing, causing a discrepancy in a pile capacity or position later on. By sharing real-time as-built information with the project team, designers would have the opportunity to develop details to overcome these kinds of issues in a timely manner. The situation where managers are scrambling around for accurate as-built information or trying to deal with the effects of misinformation would become a thing of the past and, with it, the breakdown in relationships that can occur when decisions have to be made under pressure.

Updates to KIPS now enable engineers to include site diaries, photographs and the ability to monitor quality aspects, such as tracking nonconformances until they are closed out. Huge time savings have already been achieved: some two to three hours a day from not having to input data into a computer at the end of the shift and some four hours a week by automatically processing data into useful formats for presentations and reports.

The system stores information that can be used for daily planning and even material ordering if the piling sequence changes. Site diaries are now completed on the day events happen, and are not backdated, when potentially important knowledge has been forgotten. Another powerful application is the way productivity targets can be set in KIPS.

These are automatically updated as progress is made. 

“There’s been a real cultural change,” continues Norman. “The knowledge gained at the touch of a button across the entire business is, frankly, priceless when it comes to monitoring monthly progress and preparing for meetings.”

KIPS’ user-friendly dashboard highlights its four main areas of use: safety, quality, performance and reference. It is Keltbray’s response to helping the construction industry meet targets set by the government’s Construction 2025 strategy to reduce project costs by a third and to halve the time taken to complete a project by 2025.

“With KIPS you have a much more transparent, technically advanced process that has the potential to integrate procurement, design, site operations and management – the whole lifecycle,” says Keltbray innovation director Michael Pelken.

“KIPS captures all this information as a package to enable us to be more competitive, to be a more sustainable business, setting a precedent for how effi cient the construction industry can be. Not only does it benefit our business, but, working with our technology and academic partners, we are taking the industry forward.”

KIPS will also seamlessly interface with building information modelling, retaining all whole lifecycle data for each pile on a project, adds Pelken.

“Keltbray is establishing the roadmap to make sure we are where we need to be as the industry uses technology to move on,” he says.

Longer term, it is working with partners to understand the time-related characteristics of piles, including strength, using wireless monitoring. This data has the potential to revolutionise pile design, reducing factors of safety applied to design calculations and providing confidence in pile capacity to support changes in above ground use. Faster construction, less material use, reduced vehicle emissions and maximising the potential re-use of piles all contribute to Construction 2025’s third target to halve greenhouse gas emissions.

Keltbray is working with plant manufacturer Soilmec to enable pile schedules to be uploaded into the computer of a piling rig and feedback as-built data into KIPS automatically and, also, recently announced a partnership with City University to develop solutions for more efficient foundation design and construction.

“Developments in piling over the last 50 years are mostly limited to the construction of ever larger, deeper and, consequently, less efficient foundations,” says Andrew McNamara, director of City University’s centre of excellence in temporary works and construction method engineering.

“We aim to bring piling in line with other aspects of construction, where positive change has been ingrained in the design and construction of sustainable structures above ground.”

So far, Keltbray has invested £250,000 in KIPS since 2015 and its next phase will allow the technology to scan and track components to verify safe delivery and quality. The bigger picture is to store data on every activity associated with piling on every Keltbray project to develop a deeper understanding of what “acceptable” progress looks like and identify if there are some combinations of construction techniques, plant and ground conditions which are more effi cient. Th is will feed into planning and future tenders, helping Keltbray make better use of resources. And on site, if productivity falls short, then it should be easier to identify where the problem is and put it right.

Before, KIPS, it would be the most experienced piling engineers that would be the custodians of this kind of knowledge. The volume of data that will eventually be stored and processed by KIPS will be more than any worldly-wise geotechnical engineer could manage.

This article was produced in association with:

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