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Editor's comment: Past masters are not past it

The July issue of GE is packed with news and features about new development and innovations that will improve geotechnical design and performance, as well as aid prediction.

In the news section we have the European Federation of Foundation Contractors and Deep Foundations Institute’s new tremie concrete guide and details of the latest suction bucket trials that could hold the key for the future of offshore wind farms. Last year Elon Musk promised to shake up the tunneling business and most scoffed at his plans, but he has just won a deal to design, build, fund and operate a tunneled metro project in Chicago, US.

Our interview this month is with Plaxis’ Jan-Willem Koutstaal who wants to drive finite element analysis from two dimensions into three and believes that artificial intelligence could one day improve geotechnical parameter selection.

In our features section there is a report on the eye-wateringly large-scale earthworks for Hinkley Point C, which is driving innovation by necessity, and we also have an article on remote monitoring of a rail line at Folkestone Warren that is a demonstration project for Network Rail’s plans under control period 6.

These news stories and features clearly show how the industry is trying to push the boundaries and deliver geotechnical solutions that are more cost effective and efficient than ever. However, mention of two of the grandfather’s of soil mechanics within these stories highlights that the fundamentals of ground engineering have not changed.

Arup’s Tim Chapman welcomed the news that Musk’s The Boring Company had secured the work on the proposed O’Hare transit express. Nonetheless, he warned of the ground risk from the soft lake soils that led to huge ground movements when the subway was developed in the 1940s and led to Ralph Peck’s development of the observational method.

During my visit to Folkestone Warren, I was reminded that Karl von Terzarghi also visited the site following a slope failure in 1937. Following the visit he concluded that the failure cycle of 15 to 20 years was linked to heavy rainfall and the current remote monitoring is aiming to prove that link and provide prediction of when there is a higher risk of failure.

These links with the past demonstrate that while technology is advancing geotechnical knowledge, we must not forget the past in the rush to improve.



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