A mobile asset data collection platform has produced major time and cost savings for Balfour Beatty on the M25.
“Site progress management is relatively straightforward when you are working on single building,” says Balfour Beatty BIM manager for highways and infrastructure Harry Parnell.
“But if your project is more than 27 km long and you have people scattered all over, it gets challenging.”
Since late 2011, Mr Parnell has been working out how best to link photographic evidence of motorway project progress issues with BIM.
Having worked with a mobile platform called Snapfile Ontrack, he thinks he’s found the answer.
It allows mobile collection and reporting of geolocated multimedia and form data in a secure environment. This can be updated in real-time and used to allocate tasks to staff or suppliers.
From slow to speedy
“When we started, co-ordinating site photographs with their exact locations in the 3D model was slow and laborious,” Mr Parnell recalls.
“We were using several tools, importing and exporting data and manually cutting and pasting between them.
“We wanted a more seamless way to quickly and accurately capture up to 40 different metadata attributes relating to a photo, so that, as section engineers identified issues, the data could immediately then be reused for checking, approval and electronic - rather than in-person - sign-off processes.”
During 2013, Mr Parnell and his Balfour Beatty BIM co-ordinator colleague Simon McGowen began working with Snapfile, testing different mobile photo-mapping and geolocation tools.
In spring 2014, Snapfile Ontrack was rolled out on the M25 section 5 J23 to J27 smart motorway project - a £208m joint venture with Skanska.
From marker posts and signs to gantry elements, overbridges and culverts, around 1,000 assets were each assigned a unique reference number, which was also captured in the 3D model.
“It provides a way for field workers to share high-quality, location-specific data in real time”
Ed Williams, Snapfile
Workers were assigned iPads to collect the asset data.
As work proceeded, issues - structural defects, missing signs, poor paint finishes - were photographed and their locations could be fine-tuned using Google Street View, which is incorporated in Ontrack’s browser-based system.
Being written in HTML5, it also works across multiple mobile operating systems and devices.
“GPS accuracy was +/- 5 m, so associating photographs gave a clear visual confirmation of each asset’s exact location,” Mr Parnell says.
“Using Ontrack saved hours every week. New issues were raised at evening co-ordination meetings, allocated to the relevant section staff, and once rectified could be checked and closed-out.”
In five months, more than 50 engineers and inspectors managed more than 900 quality tasks raised on site using the system.
Real-time reporting closed the gap and accelerated collaboration between site and office-based project staff.
From a survey of Ontrack users, Mr Parnell calculated an average saving of three hours a week per person, saving about £250,000 against comparable projects.
The M25 section 5 team delivered the project 26 weeks ahead of schedule and under budget, while using ONtrack to work more efficiently. Certainty regarding defect closure was vital.
“Rectifying a problem after traffic management had been lifted would cost more than £10,000, versus the average £690 if traffic management was still in place,” Mr Parnell says.
Ontrack’s secure, time/date/location-stamped and tamper-proof Snapfile format also offered reassurance to compliance teams concerned about any potential dispute or claim.
Balfour Beatty has helped Snapfile refine the system so that its capabilities can embrace other infrastructure work.
Deploying a single data capture and reporting system across all of its projects means Balfour Beatty can ensure high levels of data consistency and quality, as well as standardise cross-project reporting for group quality, health and safety and environmental purposes.
Clients such as Highways England also get richer, more accurate real-time data about their new highway assets.
The use of Ontrack has also been extended to management of existing highway assets, where good knowledge of the condition and performance of the asset base is vital to efficient operations.
This extension includes Balfour Beatty’s five-year Scotland Transerve term contract, where it will be managing more than 250,000 roadside assets.
“Being managed in a secure, cloud-based environment, the system is highly scalable,” says Snapfile director Ed Williams.
“And by using unique IDs for numerous assets, it provides a convenient way for field workers to share high-quality, location-specific data in real time with their BIM colleagues.”