Five ways digital engineering can help Hong Kong’s cavern developments.


Five ways digital engineering can help Hong Kong’s cavern developments

Given its position as one of the world’s most densely packed cities, Hong Kong’s push to move more of its infrastructure underground makes perfect sense. However, with the heightened costs of below ground construction ranging between two to three times higher than above-ground work, Hong Kong must harness digital engineering to deliver better efficiency, say Aurecon’s Ray Chan and Jason Chin.

Hong Kong has an ambitious plan to create a network of underground cavern developments to ease the pressure of land supply to the country. At Aurecon, we believe this exciting and innovative initiative has the potential to help the country build a brighter future, freeing up valuable land and creating more sustainable and future-ready communities for the nation.

However, to achieve success, the program must embrace different thinking, including harnessing the power of digital engineering. Below we give five examples of how that might be done.

Five ways to harness digital for underground engineering

1 3D geological modelling

Understanding geological conditions is a key focus for the successful delivery of underground construction.

Unfortunately, this typically relies on interpretation using 2D sections with a small amount of 3D visualisation. This makes the whole process time consuming and often causes a lack of clear communication. However, using software can both speed up construction and deliver higher quality. At Aurecon we use Leapfrog, which offers three significant benefits.

Firstly, it enables real time updates to the visualisation which gives greater efficiency and accuracy and saves substantial time in drafting. Secondly it improves collaboration through easier sharing, because having geological data available from a centralised and auditable environment makes it easier to bring project teams together, helping them stay connected and enhancing decision making.

Finally, using a software package such as Leapfrog facilitates better compatibility with different parts of the design. Being compatible with BIM, GIS and various other analytical software programs makes for easier and faster overall project management.

In combination, the benefits of 3D geological modelling bring tangible improvements in the engineering process, including offering better risk management of geotechnical issues which offers increased safety to site personnel.

3D geological modelling

2 GIS for blasting assessment

Using a Geographic Information System (GIS) for the Blasting Assessment Report avoids the need to manually engineer the vibration contours when designing the blast plan for underground construction. It also delivers accurate 3D visualisations of the blast plumes and vibrations limit on existing structures above ground.

At the construction stage, these detailed graphic representations are helpful in enabling stakeholders to understand the effects of the blasting performance and builds trust among key audiences. Most stakeholders are unfamiliar with the drill and blast process and that uncertainty can raise concerns among communities and building owners.

Having these accurate and detailed visualisations go a long way to alleviating worries, allowing work to proceed to schedule.

GIS for blasting assessment

3 Laser scanning excavation

Once blasting work has completed, laser scanning of the excavation can be employed to accurately map the cavern profile and detect areas of potential overbreak and underbreak. This is done by taking a scan both before and after the lining of the cavern has been applied.

To bring further efficiency to this stage of the process, developers should also consider using sprayed concrete to create the cavern permanent lining, as opposed to cast-in-situ concrete.

By comparing the point cloud data at various points in the cavern from both before and after the lining is applied, areas of weakness or over-fortification can be easily identified allowing adjustments to be made; this will lead to greater efficiency, especially in optimising how much concrete is used in the project.

At Aurecon, we have developed our own bespoke program for this.

Laser scanning excavation

4 Digital rock mapping

Following excavation, another way digital tools can help the construction progress is through digital rock mapping. During construction of the cavern, the rock face of the subterranean space must be mapped regularly by a geologist to record data such as material type, joint count, water characteristics, roughness and alteration.

At present, this is typically recorded using a pen and paper. However, with new customisable apps, it is possible to record the data via a smart device. This improves accuracy, speed and safety, and also means data can be uploaded in real time improving ground support optimisation.

Digital rock mapping

5 Field Force application

A further option for digitising work during construction is to use a device-based app for site inspections. Ideally this app will take the form of an online database that allows users to create their own forms for repetitive data capture. Incorporating this customisation allows onsite personnel to tailor the form to the project.

Data collected from the form should be automatically uploaded to an online portal where it can be easily accessed by other stakeholders, reducing work duplication and the risk of errors.

Field Force application

Bold vision needs bold thinking

Looking to move more infrastructure underground is not new, but the scale of Hong Kong’s ambition is unprecedented. To truly reap the rewards of this ambitious effort will require new thinking and, more importantly, new technology. With a wholehearted approach to digital engineering, Hong Kong has an opportunity to create a position as a world leader in moving infrastructure underground.

About the Authors

Ray Chan is based in Hong Kong and is Director of Operations, Infrastructure – Greater China for Aurecon. He is a seasoned professional with over 21 years’ experience in civil and structural engineering and a highly regarded author and speaker on tunnels and geotechnical engineering.

Ray past projects include the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, connecting the United Kingdom and France, the Cornth to Patras Railway Ergose Tunnel in Greece, as well as multiple MTRC subway projects in Hong Kong.

Jason Chin is Technical Director, Infrastructure – Tunnelling at Aurecon. He graduated with a BSc in Civil Engineering from the University of Alberta in Canada in 1999 and later earned a Masters of Engineering in Geotechnical Engineering from the University of Maryland, College Park in the U.S.

Key projects he has worked on include the Shatin Cavern, Tseung Kwan O – Lam Tin Tunnel, Central Kowloon Route – Central Tunnel, Express Rail Link and Shatin Central Link in Hong Kong, Deep Tunnel Sewerage System Phase 2 (DTSS2) and MRT cross island line tunnels in Singapore, SEMPRA Energy in La Rumorosa, Mexico, the Arlington National Cemetery Stormwater Tunnel and Woodrow Wilson Bridge in the USA, as well as the Lan Tan Tunnel and Taiwan High Speed Rail – Paghuashan Tunnel in Taiwan.

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