Innovative infrastructure

DR BRYAN PIDWERBESKY and CHLOE SMITH of Fulton Hogan explore innovation, sharing insights on how it is viewed within the infrastructure industry and providing examples of how it can be achieved.

WITH TENS OR EVEN HUNDREDS of millions of dollars at stake on any given major infrastructure project, how do you create an environment conducive to trialling better, safer, and more cost-effective solutions? It’s a question we have often wrestled with at Fulton Hogan, where more than 80 years of skin in the game collides with an eye on a world that is constantly changing. Our challenge – and our focus – is continually adapting and weaving in new, innovative ways of working in order to make our job sites safer, smarter and more sustainable.

Sharing the risk yields greater results

In our experience, innovation involves a degree of risk taking and, in order for this risk to be managed properly and to deliver a positive outcome it needs to be shared between all parties.

Fulton Hogan’s work with the NZTA to develop and trial the use of epoxy asphalts in road surfacing embodies this collaborative approach to risk sharing. In 2006, the NZTA engaged Fulton Hogan to develop epoxy-modified open-graded porous asphalt (EMOGPA) with the aim of improving the lifespan of road surfacing as part of a project established by the OECD.

We trialled the use of EMOGPA on a section of road in Belfast, Christchurch and the NZTA also established further trials in 2012 during the first stage of the Christchurch Southern Motorway, a Fulton Hogan design-build contract.

Based on the strong performance results of these tests, the NZTA decided to phase in 25 percent EMOGPA into a number of its capital and maintenance programmes nationwide.

This solution is an example of an appropriate level of risk sharing between client and consultant. Both parties were invested in the success of the product and this shared approach also meant that engineering judgement was able to be exercised early in the piece, increasing the chances of the solution being feasible.

Often an idea can be a winner on paper, but can ultimately be proven too complex when implemented on the ground. A close partnership between the client and consultant, where the risk is shared and the dialogue is open, increases the chances of a positive outcome for both parties.

The difference between innovation and best practice

It’s also important to note the distinction between innovation and best practice, as the two are not interchangeable despite the views of some in the industry. A widely accepted definition of best practice is: techniques, methodologies or activities based on research and/or experience that have been proven to reliably lead to a desired result, and have been widely recognised as ‘best practice’ by a professional engineering or industry body.

Innovation differs from this, as it is less about a widely accepted benchmark than it is about introducing new ways of working and testing the limits to see what is possible. It’s important that we don’t confuse innovation for best practice, until innovative approaches can reliably and consistently show that they lead to desired outcomes.

A recent example of the uncertainty around innovation and best practice occurred during the tendering phase of the Huntly Bypass, a section of the Waikato Expressway that Fulton Hogan was recently awarded under a design-build contract. The Principal’s Requirements detailed a relatively new (to New Zealand) pavement material, design and construction methodology developed to prevent rutting and premature failing in a cost-effective way.

During the tender stage, this new pavement design was being called best practice by some, whereas it is actually innovative. The designer’s and contractor’s approach to an innovation is quite different from when you are applying best practice. We are in the process of trialling this design in order for it to meet the stringent performance criteria for the project. After a verification process, which will involve 16 months of monitoring during trafficking, we are confident that we will be able to demonstrate reliable and robust results, meaning that this innovative design could then start to be accepted as best practice.

In short, it takes time for an idea to become embedded as best practice, and we have to be careful not to jump the gun and call a work of innovation a sure thing before its proven. pg44-Innovative-main-image-770x470px

Innovating the Fulton Hogan way

Pavement design aside, we have worked hard at adopting innovation across our operations and in the process we have delivered improvements not only in terms of efficiency but also in terms of safety. An example of this is our Train Safe Protection System that we recently developed in-house. Given that our crews are often working on or around railroad tracks we had an interdepartmental team create a system to minimise the hazards associated with these kinds of jobs.

The system consists of a receptor unit which harnesses laser technology to detect an approaching train. This unit then interacts with a GSM communicator, which can be programmed to alert up to 31 different phone numbers via a text message. A receiver unit is also prompted, complete with a blue warning light and a siren to ensure our crews have ample warning that a train is approaching the job site.

We have also introduced aerial drones into our operations in recent years and this has played a big role in helping to create a safer working environment and eliminating unnecessary hazards. We have been able to use this technology to swiftly survey work sites, such as the areas that need remedial work following the Dunedin floods in June this year as well as the Central Plains Water Enhancement Scheme site in Canterbury. These drones have revolutionised our work, providing our crews with immediate visibility of the job site in a way that does not compromise
their safety.

The use of the Trout River conveyor systems on our trucks – whereby materials are moved off the back of the truck without the trailer having to tip – has also proven successful. These belts are currently in use on two of our vehicles on a trial basis, and they have made an enormous difference in terms of safety as it removes the risk of the trailer striking an object such as a power line.

Each year at Fulton Hogan, the Managing Director’s Awards for Innovation celebrate and recognise the most innovative solutions our staff have to offer. These help us not only to take stock of our progress but to instil and maintain the drive to continually improve, which is an essential tenet of innovation. You simply can’t stand still. That being said, watch this space for even more high flying innovations!

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