AECOM delivers remote infrastructure project successfully using digital innovation

12 October 2020
The Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) is one of the world’s most successful transboundary water resource management schemes between the governments of Lesotho and South Africa. The project consists of water transfer, hydropower, ancillary developments and advance infrastructure. The water-transfer component of LHWP Phase II consists of the construction of the 165-m-high Polihali Dam in the Mokhotlong district of Lesotho.
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application/msword iconAECOM delivers remote infrastructure project successfully using digital innovation_final79.5 KBDownload
PreviewThe remote location in the Lesotho Highlands meant AECOM had to come up with a digital solution2.31 MBDownload
PreviewThe project includes a permanent access road to the Polihali Dam sitr5.36 MBDownload
PreviewGeo-located progress photos were captured and categorised using ESRI GIS mobile apps3.04 MBDownload
PreviewDrone technology was used to collect real-time project data to track construction progress2.74 MBDownload
PreviewBird's-eye progress photographs are critical for such a large infrastructure project346.73 KBDownload
PreviewAECOM used digital dashboards for visual analytics of weekly activities on-site180.82 KBDownload

Project introduction

LHWP Phase II will increase the volume of water to be delivered from the Katse Dam to South Africa from 780 million cubic metres a year to more than 1 260 million cubic metres. As with any large and remote project, the first major challenge was to design and construct the advance infrastructure that will provide access to the various construction sites.

AECOM is currently appointed for the design and construction supervision of a portion of the advance infrastructure called the Polihali Western Access Road (PWAR). This project includes a new 55 km PWAR and rehabilitation of the 96 km Northern Access Road (NAR), which will provide a permanent access road to the new Polihali Dam site. Major construction elements of the 23-month contract include three new concrete bridges ranging from 60m to 90m in length, 15 new major culverts, gabions and reinforced concrete retaining walls.

Due to the remote location of this site, which led to limited mobile network reception in certain areas, AECOM had to come up with a digital solution to overcome this great challenge.

Importance of digital transformation

Digital transformation is crucial to AECOM’s business strategy, deploying innovative digital initiatives to improve collaboration, productivity and efficiency for its clients. The global infrastructure consulting company has a global Digital Project Delivery (DPD) Team that supports the regional digital leads in driving the digital transformation processes.

The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the implementation of digital technologies and systems to improve team collaboration. The advancement of the internet connectivity footprint in Africa has increased significantly over the last decade, and now allows for data to be captured and shared in cloud-based Common Data Environments (CDE) from construction sites to AECOM office locations.

Project team

AECOM’s design work was primarily carried out at its Centurion head office, with support from design teams in Cape Town and Durban. It partnered with Lesotho-based RWB Consulting Engineers for construction supervision. Here a digital approach was developed to create a streamlined and efficient construction supervision team.

“We accomplished this goal and realised additional benefits that could be shared with the client by leveraging the large quantity of real-time data into digital dashboards and improved regular progress reporting,” reports Andre Schoeman, BIM Manager, Civil Infrastructure, AECOM. The AECOM team included Jacques Naude, Business Unit Director: Construction Management and Supervision Business Unit, Civil and Infrastructure in Africa and Eric Van Sciver, Project Manager, Civil Infrastructure, Africa and Gerhard Maree, Senior GIS Analyst, Africa.

Team upskilling

Internal and external training played a vital part in the success of the implementation. With technology constantly evolving, software updates are released frequently. “In order to realise the benefits of this continual improvement, we have learned that it is important to have dedicated support resources to manage and maintain these digital platforms. This helps to ensure that all parties understand the workflows and digital processes,” explains Schoeman.

Implementing digital solutions

One of the benefits of working at a global company such as AECOM is its global agreements with the top software vendors, which gives it access to and support for a variety of digital solutions that it can implement. AECOM has enterprise agreements with the likes of Autodesk, Bentley and ESRI to digitise its current workflows and processes.

The three main workflows that were upgraded to digital were the daily site diaries of the supervision team, the collection and storage of geo-located site progress photographs and the request for inspection and approval system (RFA). The development process involved a lot of upfront planning and coordination between the design, construction supervision and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) teams.

Site diaries were completed on mobile devices using the ESRI mobile apps. A big benefit of this was that no additional hardware costs were incurred. Geo-located progress photos were captured and categorised using the ESRI GIS mobile apps. The RFA system ran on the Autodesk BIM 360 Field platform.

The RFA system required the most effort to develop, as it had to be customised to a level of detail catering for all types of inspections – that is, drainage, earthworks and bridge structures – but without being too detailed to the point of being cumbersome. A challenge in developing the RFA system was the interface with the site materials testing laboratory, which was required on certain types of works such as layerworks and concrete, but not on others such as drainage structures and gabion walls.

Inspection requests were entered into BIM 360 by the contractor on a mobile tablet. The request was then routed to the appropriate team – inspector, laboratory, surveyor, etc. – depending on the type of work. The inspection requests were conveniently displayed on a calendar and assigned to individual members of the supervision team. During the inspection, the inspector populated all information on an iPad. The inspection request completed the workflow, resulting in an approval or a rejection. All information was stored on a searchable database, which was later used to compile as-built records.

GIS and drones

Drone technology was used to collect real-time project data to track construction progress. The site extends over a large area and being able to cover significant areas and capture images was of great value. Due to the geographic layout, AECOM had two separate supervision teams, one on the East and one on the West. The captured drone images were processed and geographically overlaid on the CAD drawings to improve coordination and construction progress tracking.

Drones were also used to access hard-to-reach areas and safely perform inspections and to calculate rough volume estimates at the quarries. In addition to the ability to perform quick surveys, one of the greatest advantages of drone technology for such a large infrastructure project is the ability to capture progress photographs from a bird’s-eye perspective.

This proved invaluable in conveying the ‘big picture’. It has become even more important under the current circumstances in which members of the client team were not always able to physically visit the site due to Covid-19 related travel restrictions. GIS combined with Building Information Modelling (BIM) data will have to play a more prominent role going forward in all Infrastructure projects, as it will improve efficiencies for coordination, collaboration and connected workflows during all project lifecycles.

Using data to drive performance

Data dashboards

The implementation of these mobile solutions gave the site team the ability to capture pertinent data instantly, which produced a high volume of data. To leverage the value of all this captured data, AECOM implemented data-driven digital dashboards to assist with visual analytics of weekly activities on-site. This proved very helpful in identifying any problem areas that required additional attention and/or resources.

All data captured on-site is managed in a cloud CDE. It improved team collaboration during the Covid-19 pandemic, allowing staff to access data from anywhere. Leveraging the benefits of such a digital approach allows AECOM to do more with less, which ultimately makes it more competitive in its pursuit of delivering complex projects in challenging environments.

“One must keep an open mind with respect to how digital transformation will change the way we deliver projects in the future with the rapid ongoing change in technology. The recent introduction of 5G mobile networks will have the potential to be a game-changer for the industry. Soon we will be able to implement mixed reality devices (real-time video feedback) on-site to enhance team collaboration with live immersive applications on and off site. This will also enable the Internet of Things (IoT) whereby embed sensors into structures or assets track and analyse and improve operational performance and maintenance,” concludes Schoeman.


Notes to the editor

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About AECOM 

AECOM is the world’s premier infrastructure consulting firm, delivering professional services throughout the project lifecycle – from planning, design and engineering to program and construction management. We partner with our clients in the public and private sectors to solve their most complex challenges and build legacies for generations to come. On projects spanning transportation, buildings, water, governments, energy and the environment, our teams are driven by a common purpose to deliver a better world. AECOM is a Fortune 500 firm and its Professional Services business had revenue of approximately $13.6 billion in fiscal year 2019. See how we deliver what others can only imagine at and @AECOM.

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