Sam Sherwood-Hale spoke to Kenneth Henderson of BAM Ritchies about the company’s digital construction methods, working in changeable conditions and sustainability

You’re collaborating with multiple clients on various projects, including HS2, how do these partnerships come about?

Collaboration on any project is based upon trust, in some cases this has developed as part of a long term relationship where we have repeat business and in others it’s through early dialogue with customers to build that relationship prior to a project commencing. In both cases having that mutual trust is where successful projects start. We then build on that initial phase by engaging with and supporting our customers to help them achieve their goals by delivering safely, on time and to budget.

You mention ‘industry-leading digital construction methods’, how has this technology been developed?

We are fortunate to be part of Royal BAM and this gives us access to considerable investment and experience in the digital space both in the infrastructure and commercial property spheres. This has allowed us to be early adopters of technologies and systems that may not have been used in the infrastructure arena before and utilise or modify the methods to suit our industry. Internally, we have a very experienced digital construction department who have drawn on this global experience and undertake training with our operational teams to ensure that digital construction is ‘built in’ not ‘bolt on’. This means that digital solutions developed by our pre-construction teams can be shared with the operation teams, augmented during delivery and finally handed over to the asset owner for use in both the operational phase and decommissioning of assets in the future.

Given the increase in data we can now draw upon, have you seen a change in the level of detail your digital construction methods can produce? 

Digital construction started as the production of 3D model to allow projects to be more clearly visualised by both our customers and our delivery teams. Now, the models can be produced more quickly with a degree of automation and contain more information that can be altered or updated without requiring complete redrafting. This means that changes can be accommodated more easily, the cost is reduced and we can therefore produce models for projects that are relatively small or short duration. The models are used to plan and sequence operations, ensure that the correct plant is selected, produce priced and resourced programmes, and monitor and demonstrate the impact of change. We also continue to use the models as part of our risk reduction and activity planning to identify future hazards and mitigation measures to reduce the potential for safety or quality incidents.

Is this an area you are constantly working on?

Our digital construction team work on almost every tender and project that we undertake both from a work winning and delivery perspective. For example, the management of data within ground investigation is a critical area where we are constantly striving to improve all aspects of the data collection, storage and retrieval to ensure that the product can be relied upon and updated through several cycles as required.

In geotechnical, the processes are similar but are geared towards the accurate recording of evidence and production of quality records for the asset owners. This has allowed us to reduce the requirements for intrusive validation methods by presenting data, sorted and in a graphical form to identify which areas, if any, require further investigation. This allows the programme period to be reduced and eliminates the hazards associated with breaking ground.

In both cases, investment in training of our teams has paid dividends as the site teams have the capability to record, sort, manage and display the data without relying upon external assistance.

What role does the Pre-Construction Manager play in the project? What type of skills would this position require?

Our Pre-Construction Managers are often our first point of contact with a new Customer or project opportunity and therefore they set the standard for all our future engagements and lay the foundation for building the trust between the parties. They each have 20 years or more of operational and delivery experience and the key skill which they possess is the ability to clearly articulate the experience they hold and make it relevant to the unique challenge of an individual project. They form the bridge from those initial meetings with a customer, handover to the delivery teams and then finally complete the project experience with face to face feedback sessions to identify lessons learned and opportunities for improvement which can be brought to our next project.

You provide services across multiple disciplines, how often are you required to provide all or several different services on a single project and does that change your approach?

In BAM Ritchies we have an unusually wide offering within a specialist market as we undertake ground investigation, geotechnical works and we are also the UK’s largest drill and blast contractor. This breadth of experience allows us to draw upon skills and equipment that may not normally be found in the infrastructure environment to deliver best value for our customers. For example, we drew extensively from each of our teams to deliver the slope stabilisation works at Hinkley Point C as part of the Kier BAM joint venture and similarly utilised a mix of techniques and equipment at Hooley Cutting to investigate the lineside slope. This allowed us to subsequently install the geotechnical solution using soil nailing, meshing and sprayed concrete techniques. The projects which call for this integrated solution are in many ways the most satisfying to deliver as it allows us to showcase all the skills of our directly employed workforce while simultaneously delivering best value for our customers.

You deployed a large team to a project at Bardon Hill, how do you determine how large of a role to play in different projects?

Project Sense at Bardon Hill Quarry is a great example of a project where we were able to utilise all three specialist sectors of the company to achieve a quality outcome on programme and on budget. The size of our role varies greatly from project to project. In some situations we take on the role of Principle Contractor and on others like Bardonhill we deliver a wide range of services as a sub-contractor. The initial decision on the scale of our involvement forms an early part of discussions with our customers based upon their requirements and matching them to our capability, expertise and experience. However, on many projects change occurs, and our involvement can grow or involve other specialist sector teams from within the BAM Nuttall business or with trusted supply chain partners. These specialisms mean that we can provide support and delivery options from the pre-construction phase right through to project completion as required.

When your teams are on the ground, how do they handle changeable conditions, what sort of support do you provide when, for example, unpredictable weather factors into groundwork?

Experience over 55 years has prepared us for change especially within the ground. We trial our works to ensure the ground meets our expectations and the solution detailed. Whether working in Antarctica, Shetland, Scottish Highlands or offshore, managing the weather is all about being prepared. We deliver through all conditions unless it becomes unsafe when we stop. A lot of our geotechnical work is a result of poor weather, so we understand the impact of it. We monitor and undertake detail planning to minimise the risk from weather as far as we can. Having Rope access IRATA professionals in the business means that we look to carry out our works with minimal risks to our people when operating on weather susceptible slopes and cuttings.

What does sustainability mean to you? Is it just environmental, or something beyond that?

Sustainability is much more than just environmental. As for any business we have an obligation to our employees and shareholders to ensure that we remain commercially sustainable so that we can grow and continue to invest in our people. However, looking to the future we also have an obligation and desire reduce our impact on the planet for future generations. By using lean working and investing in research and development we are reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and carbon intensive materials, while simultaneously minimising waste and use of virgin materials.

Although the Covid experience has been incredibly challenging for the industry it has allowed us to identify new ways of remote working that were seemingly impossible pre-lockdown, and this has minimised time spent travelling and improved the wellbeing of our people. As a business we are focused on People, Planet, Profit. They all support each other, and sustainability runs through all three.

We are focussing on ‘training’ in this issue, what sort of work goes into training and upskilling your supply chain partners?

As a business we pride ourselves on our self-delivery. However, the need for supply chain support is still there for when there are volume pressures or specialist techniques required.

Every Supply Chain Partner is accepted as part of our team. They have to meet our standards to support our work. This can involve upskilling where required and many of our partners have been involved in our ‘Beyond Zero’ workshops to ensure that we set the standard for performance in all areas including safety, quality and environment. They receive the same on-site training as our site teams. They become integrated into the team so that our delivery does not show any change. We monitor and manage our supply chain to ensure they are maintaining and adding to their abilities while working with us. We want to leave an employment legacy on completion of any project we undertake.

BAM Ritchies has UKAS ‘Flexible Scope’ accreditation for geotechnical and materials testing, allowing you to establish and operate UKAS accredited laboratories anywhere in the UK. What goes into setting up one of these laboratories and what sort of training/skills are required?

Our unique accreditation means we can provide a containerised laboratory and technicians operating to UKAS accreditation within 24 hours of being asked to provide one. These labs can be scaled to suit the individual project and our Lab at HPC ended up being the largest temporary Lab in Europe with over 55 Lab Technicians. Quite a change from a single 32ft container. All our Lab Technicians have been through Lab Tech NVQ and have the relevant professional qualifications to run the mobile labs. We have also brought a number of apprentices through the Lab Tech route who have successfully gone on to higher roles within our Lab Team.