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Earthworks 4.0

Published 30.1.2023

This is a critical process that can—and should—be improved by adopting efficient and sustainable technologies. Find out more about some of the initiatives Techint E&C is rolling out at its projects as well as others still at the drawing-board stage. Our innovation knows no limits!

All construction works begin with earthworks, whether it’s to lay a pipeline or build a plant, which is why it’s a task of the utmost importance, where risks must be minimized and the margin of deviations reduced.

“The latest trends in the construction industry in this area reveal the profuse development of new technologies enabling us to improve our processes so these can be more predictable and efficient,” explains Alejandro Aguirre, the Head of Innovation and Knowledge Management.

Below are some areas showing how the latest developments have been applied, with some new applications already having been tested and others under evaluation:

Digital topography and subsoil surveys. Topographic surveys carried out by drones using LIDAR or aerial photogrammetry, or subsoil surveys using GPR measurements, are no longer new and we are using them independently and separately at several of our projects. However, it’s still unusual to find a combined solution offering both the topography of the natural terrain and the variation of resistant subsoil strata in the same model to help with field works planning.

Integrated Management Systems. SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) solutions are emerging for all kinds of tasks, from planning apps (time and resource estimation using AI) to monitoring the physical progress of the works and monitoring construction equipment in the field using incorporated IoT sensors. This is the case with Smart Construction, a startup sponsored by Komatsu, with whom negotiations are underway to evaluate a planning module.

Guidance and assisted work systems. In this area, there are several firms deploying similar solutions, such as Trimble, Topcon, Leica, etc. The company is currently using the Trimble Earthworks solution with GNSS consoles and antennas installed on our earth-moving equipment. Progress is being made with tests on level 2 involving guided assisted operations to be able to reproduce the 3D design viewed by the operator in the cabin more efficiently. Here, it will be vital to reinforce and train the technical works office team so that they can load the 3D designs into the construction equipment and monitor the work carried out as required.

Autonomous equipment: There are solutions that have managed to go one step further with respect to operator guidance and assistance systems, developing systems that are capable of operating without any human intervention in the cabin itself, although under remote supervision. This is the case of the American startup Built Robotics, with which we are planning a proof of concept trial at one of our projects later this year. The test involves mounting an autonomous operation system in addition to the sensor system on a conventional digger so it can perform trenching tasks autonomously.

Energy transition: Net zero is taking a more prominent place on the agenda of construction equipment manufacturers. Most have already launched commercial developments for 100% electric-run or hybrid units that will transform the scenario of our projects, reducing CO2 emissions and the noise levels of the equipment we use. Also under development are some H2-based solutions, although these are as-yet incipient. The challenge of adopting these technologies is how to sustainably obtain the electricity or hydrogen needed to power these machines on site.

Excavators with multiple attachments: Excavators have become the most versatile piece of equipment in construction projects today, and different earth-moving accessories have been developed that can be interchanged with the more traditional bucket. This has led to the manufacture of excavators with more hydraulic circuits so that they can operate the different mechanisms of these interchangeable accessories, such as articulated buckets that can be rotated from the boom and dig a trench on a slope while the excavator stands on its linear axis. There are certainly numerous opportunities here for identifying new accessories able to optimize our work in the field.

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