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Utilizing Technology to Achieve Project Quality

By Mike Sidani, Director of Project Delivery Excellence, Michael Baker International

Utilizing Technology to Achieve Project QualityMike Sidani, Director of Project Delivery Excellence, Michael Baker International

As technology evolves, so must the engineering and construction industries. Since Michael Baker International was founded 80 years ago, technology has drastically changed the tools we use to do our jobs. However, there has been a clear constant throughout our company’s history–quality is the cornerstone of every project. To achieve a high standard of quality, teams must consistently meet client requirements with respect to scope, schedule, budget, and technical features. We are constantly evaluating new and existing technologies that can help our team satisfy specific criteria and quality management in all phases of the project, from initial planning and design to construction and project close-out.

 Communication and Collaboration

Technology has revolutionized how we communicate and work together. With more than 3,000 employees in nearly 100 offices across the U.S., our company hasmany expertsin various locations, practices, and specialtiesthat we tap throughout a project’s lifecycle to confirm that we are putting forthinnovative and creative solutions that best serveour clients.With fast-paced, complex projects, the use of technology–specifically engineering project collaboration software–is oftenimperative for projectteams to remain connected, work together, and see the project progress in real-time. By creatingan interactive work environment, we are actively fostering teamwork, achievement and quality awareness, and implementation.The technology allows for stringent quality control, with appropriate checks and balances integrated into the project management process and logged within the platform.

Project collaborationtechnology also allows us to integrate the quality review process throughout design and construction. Not only can we collaborate as an internal team, but we can also includeproject owners and partners, such as subcontractors or construction managers, in the process. By confirming the validity of our proposed solutions during the design phases–and including all relevant parties in this consensus–we can minimize issues during the construction phase.

The importance of technology in ensuring project quality–in particular, communication and collaborationtools–became evident in the recent I-280/21 Interchange Improvements project,a highlycomplex 95 million dollar reconstruction in Newark, New Jersey. This major interchange–built to standards now lapsed, positioned in a crowded urban location, surrounded by historic landmarks, sitting atop a long-used brick-lined sewage system and funneling tens of thousands of motorists through a dangerous ramp and merging configuration–needed to be rethought, redesigned and rebuilt.The use of technology on a variety of aspects was instrumental to the success, quality, and safety of the project.

The projects successfully addressed the safety and efficiency of the interchange, corrected geometric deficiencies, provided missing interchange movements, optimized I-280 throughput, and improved the corridor’s condition and reliability. With numerous key stakeholders–including Michael Baker’s design team, client New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT), contractor George Harms Construction, and other public and private entities–engineering project collaboration software and other communication tools–were vital to the project’s success.

Three-Dimensional Structural Design

The three-dimensional structural design allows us to efficiently model, analyze, and design structures. This technology allows us to consider multiple design alternatives and select the solution that will best fit the client’s needs.

"In an everchangingage of technology, quality remains non-negotiable andinherent in every project we complete"

The three-dimensional structural design also allows us to easily see the impact of potential changes or modifications to the overall design, andallows us to provide better quality deliverables while helping realize project timelines and budgets.

The I-280/21 Interchange Improvements project is in a highlyconstrained area bothhorizontally,being locked in between multiple sensitive and existing features, and vertically,being restricted to navigate ahigh elevation differential for the connecting ramps to have acceptable grades. At two locations, the new bridge structures had to be tightly fit within these constraints. Additionally, a non-uniform new structure had to be tied to two existing structures that were being re-decked. A delicate and complex three-dimensional model had to be used to confirm the ability of the existing fracture critical steel box to carry the additional and heavier loads, as well as the unbalanced construction loads.Due to tight vertical clearances, a shallow depth structure consisting of curved steel girders supported on an integral post-tensioned concrete cross girder was used at another location. A full three-dimensional model was used to incorporate for the superstructure/substructure interaction as well as long-term nonlinear effects of the concrete cross girder. These designs could not be done without the use of advanced sophisticated analysis tools.

Digital Data CollectionTools

Technology helps us to map out and plan for construction project success before even breaking the ground. Tools like the threedimensional laser scan radar survey by Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) and Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) help us assess the project areawithout being invasive and discover challenges that may arise during construction ahead of time. Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) (or drones) also help us to collect real-time data about projects and areas that might not be easily accessed by traditional methods. We often use drones to improve progress tracking and to catch potential problems before they cost a project time or become costly.

Even as the I-280/21 Interchange Improvements project was under design, the deck for the existing viaduct on I-280, which is being replaced as part of the project, was continuously breaking apart with the limited ongoing patching, causing safety concerns and required more extensive and immediate repairs. Our team mobilized the company’s mobile GPRto collect data that identifies areas of the deck with compromised low concrete strength prone to fail. The nondestructive testing was then used to determine the proper fixes that were implemented years before starting the construction.

Sensors in Construction

As the internet of things (IoT) continues to expand, our job sites are becoming part of the smart ecosystem. On job sites, sensors can be used for a multitude of applications that all contribute to quality control. We are monitoring worker safety using sensors to detect injuries or unsafe body temperatures and flagging dangerous behaviors like distractedness or drowsiness.

The safety of the job site itself can also be monitored using sensors. By placing sensors strategically throughout the site, we monitor critical information like how temperature, noise, humidity, and vibration are impacting building materials and methods. Detecting these local variations in material strength or work integrity is important when planning projects in areas that may have extreme conditions. We can alsoensure that work is hitting certain benchmarks and tolerances, for instance using sensors to indicate when concrete has cured.

Typically, a major consideration isminimizing vibrations while operating near sensitive surroundings.

For the I-280/21 Interchange Improvements project, structures near the construction site included The House of Prayer Episcopal Church and Rectory(including Plume House, the oldest building in Newark), the State Street Public School and other buildings in the Historic District,and NJ Transit tracks and station, all of which fell under monitoring requirements of NJ Transit and the State Historic Preservation Office. Our team implemented vibration monitoring, thresholds, and control procedures in the Project Specifications in the design phase. During construction, surrounding structures were equipped with sensors to collect displacement and vibration data. Notably, vibration from the I-280 pier column foundation occurred less than 30 feet from the Plume House, requiring extreme care during construction, particularly during foundation strengthening using 60’ pin piles and post-tensioning of the footing. This level of careful monitoring using sensors ensured that no facilities were damaged during construction.

Traffic Flow & Technology

With our nation’s highway infrastructure largely in place, many of the projects that we are undertaking involve rehabbing or improving existing roads. It is imperative that we keep traffic flow in top-of-mind during these projects, as it’s often not practical to completely shut down the routes that people use daily. Using technology, we can ensure the quality of construction while also creating staging areas for traffic to continue during construction.

By first positioning cameras to monitor the traffic flow in and around the construction area, we then use communications technology to compute data in real-time and ease clogged construction zones. These solutions can include managing traffic signals and using smart signage to alert drivers that they are entering a construction zone and make them aware of reduced speed limits and potential slowdowns occurring throughout the area.

One of the I-280/21 Interchange Improvements project’s objectives was to improve traffic operations efficiency and throughput by improving the interchange configuration to current standards, but without adding through lanes. This objective held true during construction as well. Full-scale traffic simulation models using multiple sophisticated traffic software were used to confirm that traffic continued to flow seamlessly, during each of the construction stages, as it was achieved in the final configuration.

To maintain four lanes of traffic on I-280, east- and west-bound traffic wasshifted onto temporary elevated roadways retained by MSE walls atop permanent MSE walls.Using the traffic simulations in design allowed us to verify that these temporary stages will work and keeps traffic moving. These roadways werealways monitored by cameras, ensuring that certain traffic movements wouldn’t be overburdened during construction. With the permanent lanes completed, the temporary roadways were removed. This innovation protected the flow of traffic, eliminated the need for a temporary construction footprint and eliminated numerous and potentially unsafe cattle chutesand sub-stages.

At the outset of each project, it is important to define quality control techniques and activities to be followed and quality assurance actions and reviews to be carried out. By integrating technology into the project when possible, the team was able to confirm that the high-quality standards were met. In the end, the I-280/21 Interchange Improvements project successfully addressed the safety and efficiency of the interchange, including correcting geometric deficiencies, providing missing interchange movements between an interstate highway and a principal arterial, optimizing I-280 throughput without adding through lane capacity and improving the condition and reliability of the corridor. Technology, including communication and collaboration software, three-dimensional structural modeling, noninvasive data collection technology tools, sensors, and traffic simulations and management technology, all contributed to the quality of the final product.

In an ever-changingage of technology, quality remains nonnegotiable andinherent in every project we complete.

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