Home » HS2’s digital ‘DIGGER’ saves millions on earth works

HS2’s digital ‘DIGGER’ saves millions on earth works

by Mark Cantrell
The HS2 project is using digitally enabled excavators and dump trucks to harvest data on their operation, and so drive efficiency gains in real time

In what is said to be an industry first, the HS2 project is using digitally enabled excavators and dump trucks to harvest data on their operation, and so drive efficiency gains in real time.

HS2 Ltd and its main contractor, EKFB – a joint venture between Eiffage, Kier, Ferrovial, and Bam Nuttall – have partnered with construction equipment supplier Finning to streamline the earthworks process. It is claimed to be already yielding multi-million-pound savings.

The systems makes use of the Finning CUBIQ digital platform, together with EKFB’s DIGital Graphical Earthworks Reporting programme, also known as DIGGER.

The 700 or so machines are fitted with electronic weight sensors to monitor the millions of cubic metres of earth moved across the line’s 80km central section. The sensors deliver data , from which real time digital insights are derived.

Rob Cairns, HS2 Ltd’s senior innovation manager, said: “Delivering HS2 remains a huge task. Most of its constituent parts are major, multi-year projects that provide both the test-bed for development of innovative technology and subsequent deployment to enable benefits to be reaped.

“Once innovative, efficiency-enhancing technology has been developed and proven on HS2, it’s ready to be deployed on future projects anywhere across the UK and abroad.”

Mark Harrington, EKFB’s earthworks director, added: “DIGGER is a game changer for EKFB’s earthmoving operations. By providing data that enables us to identify where inefficiencies are occurring in real time, we can implement immediate improvement measures to ensure we maintain optimum efficiency across our operations.

“This has meant that we’ve been able to reduce costs by around £25m. A significant slice of that saving comes from reduced fuel consumption – so it’s enabled a cut in carbon emissions too.”

The line, running between the northern edge of Chiltern Hills and the east of Leamington Spa, is engineered with a series of embankments and cuttings to blend the new railway into the landscape.

Shifting earth

To realise the design, some 53 million cubic metres of rock and earth must be moved. Over 27 million cubic metres have been shifted to date, with a similar quantity still to be moved; the system is expected to make a significant contribution to delivering the job as efficiently as possible.

To illustrate, if the live data that is fed back to EKFB’s Brackley site base shows one of the 60 excavators idling with a load because it is waiting for a dump truck to arrive, the EKFB team swings into action to shuffle the fleet so it can continue to operate.

Similarly, the system enables the on-site team to easily identify and resolve any pinch points on site roads, which may slow down haulage operations.

Tim Ferwerda, Finning UK & Ireland’s managing director, said: “Working closely with HS2 Ltd and EKFB we’ve successfully demonstrated how our technology-led and digitally enabled operational approach supports the delivery of large infrastructure projects in the safest, most efficient and sustainable way possible. We are proud to be spearheading this type of transformative and collaborative approach to planning and delivering earthworks.

Read next: Building tomorrow: Perspectives for a sustainable future

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