Wednesday, 28th June 2017

Less can be more in smarter construction monitoring

With the significant investment in major infrastructure projects, such as HS2, and large mixed use urban redevelopment schemes such as Barking Riverside, there has never been more of a need to monitor the environmental performance of construction sites.  The construction phase of any development can have major impacts upon communities and the surrounding environment if it is not carefully managed and controlled.  Current technology and techniques are making it simpler and more cost effective to actively monitor a range of environmental factors from noise and dust through to ground movement.  However, the ease of access to this kind of data makes it increasingly important that project teams understand their likely impacts and are able to focus on what is required to achieve good, or even excellent, performance.

There are many examples of where monitoring has enabled a step change in the environmental performance of construction sites.  The Northern Line Extension from Battersea to Kennington is a highly complex project with five work sites spread across a 3km route. To successfully manage the environmental impacts from this site the FLO joint venture team (Ferrovial Agroman Laing O’Rourke), advised by Temple, has implemented SIGICOM’s Infranet remote, web enabled system which provides real time access to noise, vibration and air quality monitoring stations across the sites .  Automated triggers enable the project’s environment team to proactively respond to issues minimising the number of exceedances of the defined limits.  Through access to audio recordings for the extreme noise events they have been able to identify problematic activities and seek to provide further mitigation.  Most importantly, the system prioritises the pertinent information which avoids the risk over complicating data sets.

The key to the success lies in the approach taken when specifying and configuring the system.  It is possible to monitor a vast array of different metrics and parameters over very short time periods which would provide a vast amount of high fidelity data, however, this does not necessarily lead to a better operational or environmental outcome.  Management of large data sets is time consuming and costly and can, all too often lead, to ‘data blindness’ where the need to process the data interferes with the level of scrutiny required to spot issues early and act.  This is a lesson Crossrail have identified which led to a re-evaluation of the monitoring undertaken.

The success of the Northern Line Extension’s system has been enabled by the project first considering the desired outcomes (or performance indicators).  Once these were defined and understood they were able to tailor the monitored parameters to the outcomes, this has enabled the team to have simple integrated system which provides all the data they need quickly without the burden of redundant data.

Data overload

In the real world no two construction sites are the same.  Each will be subject to different stakeholder and environmental issues so there cannot be a one size fits all solution to monitoring.  The tailored approach will ensure that the level of data collected is appropriate for the needs of the project.  Where the issues are complex then a multi-faceted but targeted system can be used; where they are not the project does not burden itself with large amounts of redundant data. That way, monitoring activities should always keep focussed on helping to mitigate the real local impacts of each construction site.