AECOM delivers remote infrastructure project successfully using digital innovation

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.

Project introduction

LHWP Phase II will increase the volume of water delivered from the Katse Dam to South Africa. From 780 million cubic metres a year to more than 1 260 million cubic metres. The first major challenge is to design and construct advanced infrastructure to provide access to the various construction sites.

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

The remote location of the site leads 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 infrastructure consulting company has a global Digital Project Delivery (DPD) Team. The team 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 internet connectivity in Africa has increased significantly. Captured data is shared across cloud-based Common Data Environments (CDE). These may be from construction sites to AECOM office locations.

Project team

AECOM’s design work is primarily created at the Centurion head office. The support teams are in Cape Town and Durban. It partnered with Lesotho-based RWB Consulting Engineers for construction supervision. A digital approach to creating 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. It improved regular progress reporting,” reports Andre Schoeman, BIM Manager, Civil Infrastructure, AECOM.

The AECOM team:

  • 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.

Team upskilling

Internal and external training played a vital part in the success of the implementation. Technology is constantly evolving, new software updates are frequently released. “In order to realise the benefits of this continual improvement. We 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

The benefits of working at a global company such as AECOM is its global agreements with the top software vendors. It gives access to and supports 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 upgraded to digital are 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 upfront planning and coordination between the design, construction supervision and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) teams.

Site diaries are completed on mobile devices using ESRI mobile apps. A big benefit of this is that no additional hardware costs are incurred. Geo-located progress photos are 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. Customised to a level of detail catering for all types of inspections. These are drainage, earthworks and bridge structures. A challenge in developing the RFA system is the interface. Site materials testing laboratory is required on certain types of works. These include layer works and concrete, but not on others such as drainage structures and gabion walls.

Inspection requests are entered into BIM 360 by the contractor on a mobile tablet. The request is then routed to the appropriate team. The inspection requests are 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 approval or rejection. All information is stored on a searchable database. It is later used to compile as-built records.

GIS and drones

Drone technology collects real-time project data to track construction progress. The site extends over a large area. Being able to cover significant areas and capture images are of great value. Due to the geographic layout, AECOM had two distinct supervision teams, one on the East and one on the West. The drone images are geographically placed over the CAD drawings. This improves coordination and construction progress tracking.

Drones are used to access hard-to-reach areas. It allows workers to safely perform inspections and to calculate rough volume estimates at the quarries. The ability to perform quick surveys is one of the greatest advantages of drone technology. For a large infrastructure project to capture progress photographs from a birds-eye perspective.

This proved invaluable in conveying the ‘big picture’. Drones have become even more important under the current circumstances. The team is not always able to physically visit the site due to Covid-19 related travel restrictions. GIS combined with Building Information Modelling (BIM) data will play a more prominent role going forward. It improves 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. To leverage the value of all this captured data, AECOM implemented data-driven digital dashboards. It compiles the visual analytics of weekly activities on-site. This proved very helpful in identifying any problem areas that required additional attention and/or resources.

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

Digital transformation

“One must keep in mind how digital transformation will change the way we deliver projects in the future. 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. This will enhance team collaboration with live immersive applications on-site. The Internet of Things (IoT) will embed sensors into the structures or assets. It will track, analyse and improve operational performance and maintenance,” concludes Schoeman.



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