Scott Gallacher Member Name
Digital Engineering Manager
You may not need to throw out your old hard hat just yet, but if you’re involved in engineering it is time to come to terms with working in a changing world of rapid innovation, disruption, new digital technologies, and ever bigger data.
It would be natural to feel just as overwhelmed as inspired by the possibilities but diving headlong into a catalogue of expensive and exciting tech isn’t the place to start. You’d never begin a journey by choosing a mode of transport. You’d start by knowing where you are now, and where you’d like to get to, and then find the most efficient and appropriate option to get you there.
It’s the same with digital engineering. The “tech” shouldn’t come ahead of thinking hard about the current state of your business practices and where you’d like to be in the short, medium and long term.
Once you’re clear about how digital engineering can connect with your business goals and challenges, you can determine how to adopt and use the best of the technologies available.
This is the time to analyze the pros and cons of new methods and tools for data capture, analysis and presentation, which are becoming increasingly sophisticated, accessible and affordable. Determine what will support you to gather the most relevant, detailed and accurate information, by the most effective and efficient methods, and how to apply the right forms of modelling and analysis to get answers from that data.
Make the technology serve your goals
The real value of the tech options lies less in their general capabilities, however extensive – but more in how their potential can be applied to deliver effective solutions for your particular business challenges. There is never one technology to rule them all, but an ecosystem of solutions that work together to provide project outcomes.
For example, if you want to reduce labor costs, explore technologies that can eliminate manual or tedious processes of data capture, input and transfer (can you use drones, Lidar, or new imaging or data capture systems – and can you automatically populate that data back into integrated systems?). To improve safety, seek out tools to reduce the need for your workers to be physically present on site. To reduce your operations and maintenance costs, look into the systems (such as Internet-of-Things sensors) that will sense and alert you to maintenance needs at the most opportune and cost-effective times.
Choose consultants and contractors who are keeping pace with change
If, on any of your projects, you are engaging specialist consultants or contractors in any field, ask them how they will be maximizing the benefits of digital technology in their own business practices to produce better outcomes for your project and your business.
Let’s say you’re engaging a geotechnical consultant. Are they still manually logging holes, writing up findings, and producing reports – or will they be harnessing the power of digital technologies to efficiently capture and process data to give you the most rapid, accurate and clearly understandable information about your project options?
Are they using the best predictive tools and visualization technology to quickly diagnose issues and uncover the greatest range of possible design solutions? Can they bring relevant and up-to-the-minute information together into an online portal so that you can see live project information whenever you need it, now and for the lifecycle of the asset?
Do they engage with emerging technologies such as digital twins, big data, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and machine learning, augmented/virtual/mixed realities and more – so that they are able to deliver the kinds of outcomes that you, as a client, should expect? Are they utilizing established processes and leveraging relevant standards (BIM, ISO and local government guidelines such as VDAS)?
At Golder, we’ve been embracing new school digital along with our old school hard hats for some time, so that we can deliver to our clients the clearest, fullest and fastest picture of the factors that make a difference to their projects.
For example, in our work on the West Gate Tunnel Project in Australia, we digitally captured field information, automatically populated data stores, and developed geotechnical 3D representations from which we could create infinite views of the model and cross-sections to give our client the best insight into the options available. This is one of the great benefits of digital engineering – the speed and capacity to see the range of options available and explore them virtually.
We’ve also experienced how automation not only saves time and labor but can also bring greater rigor and visibility to business processes. In the Orica Deer Park site remediation project, we’ve put automation to great effect by combining field laptops with mobile GPS technology and using our GIS expertise and solutions to accurately map the location of site-centric assets (such as samples and excavations). This allows us to then create digital labels for the samples which record all the associated field data and track movement through testing, storage and disposal (Chain of Custody). By better leveraging technologies, we are removing potential human error and adding layers of verification. And we’re providing better visibility of and access to the data, thereby removing risk and expediting the auditing process.
Look to the future
We can’t know what new options will be available in digital engineering in a few years’ time, let alone in a decade or more. Planning for change is as important as planning for the present. Staying up to date is a start, but future-proofing is vital – and that means looking for tools and systems that can be expanded and updated to accommodate new developments, not only in the technology but also in terms of how your business strategy and activities will change in a transforming world.