Soil Engineering – From Borehole to BIM: Optimising the Data Journey

XX_log_CQ Digitising the ground investigation data journey, from collection in the field and in the laboratory to final delivery to clients, has transformed the speed, accuracy, consistency and reliability of information, says Soil Engineering Geoservices Data Manager Ian Linton.

Why did we have to change?

While clients have always asked for field and laboratory information as early as possible, the wider adoption of BIM in the construction industry (and latterly in geotechnics) has meant data requests are coming earlier and earlier in the investigation process.

Many ground investigation contracts now stipulate that borehole records, including associated AGS data, are provided daily. Contractors are also required to schedule testing electronically (particularly for environmental investigations) the day after samples are collected from site. And, after an initially slow uptake, providing AGS 4 data is now the norm. Sending handwritten data from site to the office makes meeting these requirements a challenge, particularly from remote locations.

Additionally, dealing with multiple data sources, such as specialist subcontractors and laboratories, means information can arrive in different formats and vary in quality. Data often has to be transcribed and manually entered, which is very time-consuming and not cost-effective.

Soil Engineering Geoservices (SEG) found manually converting large volumes of AGS 3.1 data to AGS v4 was becoming no longer tenable. We realised there was a need to take a new approach to working to meet changing client needs, one that would improve the flow of data from site, while improving consistency, accuracy and reliability.

What systems and processes did we upgrade?

So, in 2015, we decided to adopt the philosophy of BS8574: 2014 Code of practice for the management of geotechnical data for ground engineering projects. Basically, wherever possible, we aim to collect data digitally at source or, if this is not possible, it is only entered once and retained electronically. BSI Image 1A suite of software products developed by Keynetix underpins our entire system. We decided to upgrade to KeyLAB v2 and to HoleBASE SI Professional (together with its extensions for Excel and AutoCAD Civils 3D and Template Studio) and KeyAGS.

Swim Lane Image It starts with Digital Data Capture

We have been using KeyLAB and HoleBASE software for many years, using the packages to produce borehole records, laboratory test results and AGS v3.1 data. We were also one of the first companies to introduce digital borehole data capture using KeyLogbook, in 2011: we now have more than 20 systems being used by drilling teams in the field.

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Collecting data digitally in the field has been shown to reduce errors significantly, particularly if there are automated validation checks when data is entered. And having a single set of data helps ensure consistency. Data is sent daily (and sometimes even more frequently) from these devices, via an FTP site, to HoleBASE SI. Laboratory test schedules are then generated from the HoleBASE SI Extension for Excel or as AGS sample files (as part of the chain of custody process) and sent to clients.

Direct digital data capture is used for collecting other investigation information whenever possible. This includes data from drilling parameter recording sensors on rotary drilling rigs; from in-situ and laboratory testing; from groundwater, gas and displacement monitoring instruments and from survey instruments. Where necessary, KeyAGS is used to convert data from other digital formats into AGS 4 format. Currently, some data is still collected on bespoke AGS-enabled electronic forms and imported using KeyAGS but we are now working towards reducing and, ultimately, eliminating their use.

Streamlining our laboratory data import and processing

Our laboratory uses KeyLAB v2 to import sample information and electronic test schedules in AGS format; environmental test schedules are sent to specialist laboratories in AGS format or as Excel files, as required. Migrating to KeyLAB v2 was straightforward as we already had well-established processes in the laboratory. The software was updated further in 2016 to enable more demanding non-linear calibration data for some of the advanced soil, rock and aggregate tests our laboratory carries out; we are in the process of finalising converting the sheets for these.

Photo 3 MontageHoleBASE SI a complete repository for all our data

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The main benefit is seen by our Clients

In truth however, the power and benefit to our clients is not what we can do with the data, but what they can do with the data we produce: there is immense scope for analysis, visualisation and integration into BIM.

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