The goal: intelligent control of the construction process
(Note: This is a translated version of an article that first appeared in Schweizer Bauwirtschaft, written by Susanna Vanek.)
Ammann, the Swiss company, has been able to garner important knowledge from a German research project. Swiss roadbuilders are set to benefit from these findings.
The Internet of Things automatically captures relevant information from the real world, links it together and makes it available in a network. Will the next step be the ‘Internet of Road Construction Machines’? It’s a strong possibility.
Smart Site, a research project with the participation of consortium partners from research and industry, focused on the integration of the entire logistics chain and the work process of an asphalt construction site within an overall system, via intelligent cloud-based networking. The project’s final demonstrator – renewal of the carriageway surfacing on the L1206 highway in Filderstadt, Swabia (Germany) – provided impressive proof of the practicality of this solution. The project participants also included a Swiss company – Ammann, the manufacturer of mixing plants and construction machinery.
High costs are always incurred whenever errors occur during road construction – for example, if the asphalt is insufficiently compacted so it becomes brittle. The built structure or road has to be dismantled and reconstructed at great expense. Another factor is that road construction sites lead to traffic jams – an unwelcome situation.
So what should be done? One of the fundamental causes of inadequate quality is that road construction involves large numbers of players working together with rigid central planning, control and reporting systems. System providers usually offer solutions for individual segments of the value chain; in actual practice, these can only be linked together to create an added-value network by manual inputs and a high degree of local effort.
Until now, there have been no standard processes based on coordinated planning to enable forwarding of control-relevant information from the mixing plant to the roller. The result: inter-company cooperation and the deployment of different types of construction equipment are inadequately supported within a construction project – if at all. Moreover, downstream quality assurance and documentation of the building operations are hampered by system failures and manual activities
Kuno Kaufmann, the Ammann Group’s Head of Digital Products Machines, notes: ‘We’ve been wanting to tackle this issue for a long time. That’s why it was clear to us from the outset that the Smart Site project harbours enormous potential.’
As a full-service provider for road construction, the Ammann Group was an ideal partner for this project, he adds. Summing up the knowledge gained, Mr. Kaufmann comments: ‘The Smart Site research project impressively demonstrated the potential available from automation, networking of all players and dynamic process control.’
‘Smart Site collects and documents data that can be evaluated regarding the environment, the construction machine and the construction process control along the entire value chain for road building. Based on central planning for the entire value chain, dynamic and decentral information is provided to all players during execution; this information relates to the mixing plant, the transportation logistics, the automated paver and the assistance-controlled rollers.’
Of course, Mr. Kaufmann warns, solutions are already available nowadays for aspects such as compaction control, but there is a risk that isolated solutions of this sort could stand in the way of end-to-end digitization in the long term. However, it is precisely this type of end-to-end digitization that the Ammann Group aims to achieve. Q Point AG, a spin-off of the Ammann Group that focuses on digitization in road construction, is producing a manufacturer-independent open digital platform for the construction sector (more information at: www.schweizerbauwirtschaft.ch/qpoint). The motto here is: moving from local analogue construction sites to regionally networked digital sites.
‘Intelligent control of the construction process is the goal,’ Mr. Kaufmann explains. ‘This is based on developing BIM-integrated processes, and on feedback, analysis and monitoring of semantically enriched and context-based construction-specific data that is situationally and autonomously concentrated. The goal is achieved through autonomously controlled information exchange among construction machines, between the environment and the construction machine, and between the construction management and the construction machine.’
In this way, an information hub is created for all the parties involved in a construction project. The result is that all the links in the value chain for asphalt road construction can be closely meshed. This also implies that the information platform should be manufacturer-independent. ‘It should be open to all,’ Mr. Kaufmann says, ‘independently of specific machine manufacturers, software and hardware providers, or users such as road construction companies. We are not aiming for isolated standalone solutions but, on the contrary, for one overall solution with open interfaces where all the participants in the system are equally welcome – in fact, we explicitly want them to take part.’
Knowledge garnered from the Smart Site project has also been incorporated into Ammann’s development work on further products. Within Smart Site, for example, a conceptual study was undertaken on a roller that is driven autonomously. Safety is another aspect that features prominently. A video shows that as well as continuously monitoring the degree of compaction of the road surface, the roller is also equipped with integrated protection against collisions. It stops automatically if a person is in the way, so accidents are prevented.
Road construction sites, with their major logistical outlay, are particularly well suited to digitization. The Smart Site project received support from the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology through its ‘Autonomics for Industry 4.0’ programme.