Technology has been a powerful driver for industrial efficiency in the twenty-first century. The rapid growth in infrastructure projects such as tunnels is synonymous with both disruptive and supportive technologies to automate operations. The tunneling industry has quickly risen to the challenge from tunnel asset owners who demand more digital design solutions when procuring new tunnels.
Today, there are projects in the UK, Greece and Italy that invest in tunnels to improve transport capacity and help passengers travel faster. The construction is claimed to have evolved as the asset currently being developed is expected to last over several generations, but such an argument is intuitive. Huge amounts of expenditure are spent on a tunnel that does not provide an enhanced travel experience, and a large investment is required to operate and remodel within a few years. Construction cannot afford to get stuck in the past, it must transform to improve delivery efficiency and sustainability.
The World Economic Forum (2016) has developed a transformation framework that lists 30 best practice metrics for the construction industry. It highlights three important areas of transformation from its traditional approach. First, it needs to be open to innovation so that opportunities from new technologies, materials and tools can be used to reduce production costs. Second, it should consider adopting mechanized and automated production systems alongside off-site construction techniques to speed up the construction process and improve the timely completion of projects in a collaborative environment.
However, for high complexity projects such as tunneling involving a range of strategic and operational decisions from the client, designers, contractors, procurement side and regulators, BIM can provide a collaborative platform. Thanks to vertical and horizontal collaboration, processes and resources must be optimized to meet the customer’s requirements. This unwittingly generates a significant amount of data, and this data needs to be integrated and communicated to stakeholders. Thus, on-demand solutions are understood and value is created. Digital construction is the adoption of technology-driven initiatives aimed at harnessing advances in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to improve integration.
The integration model emphasizes the need to bring the people, processes and products of the construction project together to deliver value to the customer in a more efficient and sustainable way. The third area focuses on the role of project management and control of costs in the design and planning stages. When purchasing projects, contracts are designed to ensure optimum risk sharing throughout the supply chain, with agreed monitoring mechanisms. Recently, the momentum in construction has shifted from focusing on the top-down approach of project delivery to a more collaborative approach aimed at meeting clients’ requirements. The consequences of adopting digital approaches to construction are increasingly positive, and more projects are delivered on time and on budget that would otherwise pose a high risk of cost overruns. It is the digitalization of the purchasing process by using approaches such as e-procurement and e-sourcing. It has increased cooperation between clients and contractors due to the trust developed through the sharing of accurate data and clarity of information. This allows for misunderstanding and better management of cultural barriers.
In the 1970s, almost all stakeholders in the construction industry started to think that improvements should be made in project processes as the difficulties of rapidly developing technologies were felt. In the early 1980s, the UK government launched mandatory competitive bidding to take advantage of increased competition opportunities to reduce the overall cost of construction. This later loosened in the early 1990s due to the distrust it created, and caused further disruption in the delivery of projects. Latham’s 1994 report on setting up the team highlighted the need to work collaboratively with the supply chain to reduce construction costs and deliver projects more predictably. Construction projects continued to face twin challenges after the new millennium. They must provide customer value as well as resist the changing climate and normality of user behavior. The emerging lean management approaches were a panacea in the early 2000s and were considered for broader application in virtual construction, which later became what is known as building information modeling (BIM). BIM provides a digital representation of the physical and functional characteristics of a facility that cannot be easily communicated with any technical stakeholder. Sharing information provides a more reliable clarity and shared vision of the project and the needed resource so that appropriate decisions can be made about the life cycle.
BIM is a relatively new paradigm, trying to integrate the three pillars in the construction industry. It is people, process and technology to provide assets that meet customer requirements. BIM extends the management information system (MIS) and is sometimes referred to as a specialist business information management system for construction projects. Through BIM, essential requirements are captured, analyzed and shared to enable higher levels of collaboration. In fact, it is an effective tool for stakeholder engagement as it enables stakeholders to take advantage of technology connected to a common data environment (CDE) that can be accessed remotely at any time. The added value is that it integrates collaborative technologies and fosters the development of a collaborative culture throughout the project lifecycle. An integrated collaboration environment highlights the challenges of projects to be managed proactively. Since 2016, BIM has aimed to achieve 33% cost reduction and develop faster delivery programs that can reduce overall project time and emissions by 50%. For this purpose, it has been made mandatory for centrally financed projects in England.
The use of the BIM collaborative approach in the UK rail industry has so far been limited to the construction of new lines such as Cross Rail and High Speed link 2 (HS2). Its use in a complex operational environment such as road renewal, monitoring tunnels and other structures needs adaptation. The large amount of available data from various workflows and in various formats needs to be integrated into management intelligence to develop accurate, priority maintenance plans to optimize asset availability necessary for train services to operate efficiently.
In the UK, partnerships and collaborative working have long been the preferred method for procuring railway maintenance projects to maximize efficiency. The UK government’s construction strategy and commitment to long-term partnerships to deliver infrastructure projects revolutionizes work and data management techniques. Rapid advances in technology, increased capacity to process large volumes of data at lower costs, and the development of faster data analysis tools make data management more and more central to strategic planning for organizations.
Improving asset data management facilitates multiple use of existing data to provide more accurate underlying data and reduce unnecessary rework. However, the future use of partnerships to procure railway maintenance jobs requires adaptation to new working methods.
Railway asset maintenance disciplines can standardize their approach and adapt these modern approaches to meet their unique needs. Also, in April 2016, the UK government made a fully collaborative 3D, BIM environment. Rail operators in the UK are investing millions of pounds to improve rolling stock. However, state-of-the-art trains usually run on much older network infrastructure consisting of tunnel sections, most of which were built 150 years ago. Railway tunnels are built to last. But ultimately, after degradation caused by various factors such as vibration, high velocity airflow, corrosion, water intrusion, and vegetation growth, a time is required for elements to be upgraded or replaced.
Poor construction techniques and changing ground conditions in the past also cause weak spots that trigger the need for maintenance work from time to time. Railway tunnels need to be constantly monitored with a tunnel management strategy to ensure safe operation, reduce potential risks and determine when corrective action will be taken. Safeguarding existing assets is just as important for UK rail operators as enabling capacity improvements through the construction of new lines and services. However, while tunnel repair jobs often cause service disruptions, they are difficult to deliver safely due to space and logistical constraints. As more tunnels are built to meet the growing demand for rail usage, the need for tunnel maintenance increases.
Author: Ozlem Guvenc Agaoglu