Parametric tools for pile core design automation

Voorbij Funderingstechniek, Ballast Nedam, and de Groene Boog and BESIX have used the VIKTOR platform to work on the development several of parametric tools that enable the automated design of pile sheets in three projects.
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Project 1: A web-based application for automation and optimization of sheet pile design

The project

Designing and optimizing sheet piles is a complex and time-consuming process with many iterations. In collaboration with VIKTOR, Voorbij Funderingstechniek has developed an application that centralizes all data to automatically calculate constructions, which reduces time, money, errors, CO2 emissions, and leaves more time for engineers to create the awesome!

Digital transformation

Compared to other industries, the Engineering and Construction industry is lagging regarding the adoption of new technologies. This is not strange, since projects within this sector are often restricted with very strong deadlines, both budget- and timewise. There are however a lot of opportunities within the E&C industry when it comes to applying tech in the work field.

Voorbij Funderingstechniek has used the VIKTOR platform to take on the transformation to explore the possibilities of digitization by automating and optimizing parts of their workflow in the design of sheet piles.

Process analyses

Before the digital transformation could start, process analyses had to be conducted to determine what parts of the workflow would benefit most from being automated. For Voorbij, this seemed to be the design and calculation of sheet piles: A workflow that consists of many intense, repetitive, and time-consuming processes that always had to be conducted manually.

To come up with the first design of a sheet pile, a lot of data needs to be gathered and put together. For example, the soil layout, measurements, and environmental factors. Unfortunately, it happens more often than not that one of the dimensions on which your design depends suddenly changes. When this happens, your entire design needs to be redone since all design elements rely on each other, which is a very time-consuming task. If automated, not only a lot of time, but also a lot of additional efforts could be spared.

Parametric design for automation and optimization

This is where parametric design methods come in. By digitalizing traditional design methods, repetitive tasks that previously had to be done manually can be automated. If you change a parameter (length, material, thickness) in a parametric design model, an online application will automatically calculate a new design for you with just the push of a button, meaning no more manual calculations are involved.

Before the implication of parametric models, projects most of the time used a ‘normative’ design to start building from. This makes for fast design of the actual project, but made it almost impossible to create the optimal design. With parametric models you can easily calculate all possible designs witin moments of time and the optimal design will always be found.

Not only is the chance of errors zero, but engineers will have much more time left to apply their specialist knowledge to create awesome things!

A web-based application

Voorbij has created an easily accessible web-based application on the VIKTOR platform that uses these parametric design methods to automate the calculation processes of sheet pile design. Once automation was implemented, optimization followed.

If you want to be able to optimize your design, you first need to know what goal you want to reach. Less CO2 emissions? Cost reduction? Saving time? Easy execution? With the application it is possible to set conditions for all of these goals. Based on those conditions you can variate input to find the optimal design outcome.

For example, if the goal of the design is to save more money, you can easily adjust that setting. Then, the application calculates ways to create a cheaper design, for example by replacing the sheet pile for a lighter and therefore cheaper material.

Project 2: Design and improvement of canal banks

The project

Ballast Nedam won a tender to improve over 50 km of canal banks in Twente, which included the placement of new sheet piles. To know what type of sheet piles needed to be placed, calculations had to be done every so many meters.

Calculations are done based on soil layout information that from geotechnicians. For every kilometre, about 100 soil samples are taken. Based on those samples you are able to determine where the weakest point is and what kind of sheet pile needs to be placed there to maintain a good canal bank.

If you only have little time, which is often the case in construction projects, you do these calculations around every 1000 meters. However, if you determine the weakest point for every kilometre, your calculations are very global. It is possible that 200 meters ahead from the weakest point, the soil is very different and because of that the calculations are off for that area. Therefore, it is beneficial for not only your budget but also the future-proofness of the project if you are somehow able to do more calculations so you can base what type of sheet piles need to be placed more accurately.

A web-based application

Luckily, there is a solution to this problem. With a web-based application, you can easily perform all these calculations in an instant. This not only saves budget and provides for a more future-proof canal bank, but also speeds up the project significantly, since you won’t have to spend so much time on manual calculations anymore.

The VIKTOR platform can be used to create an application like this. If you have a soil sample for every 50 meters, you can simply tell the computer to calculate what type of sheet pile is needed every 50 meters as well. The only thing you have to do, is feed the system information about the soil, the CPT (a gef-file), the type of sheet pile you want to place (thickness, flexibility, material), and cross sections of the canal bed in that area (depth, width, etc.).

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Visualization of soil samples in the VIKTOR application

Furthermore, there are a lot of additional details that can be taken into account and therefore you have to provide the application with a basic formula (D-sheet) which is used to determine what details are relevant and should be included in the final calculations. Then, the VIKTOR application verifies if your selected sheet pile qualifies all criteria or not, which can be seen in clear visualizations.

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Visualization of sheet pile qualifications (green qualifies, red does not qualify) in the VIKTOR application

Additionally, you can group parts of the canal into sections, so the calculating process runs smoothly. Geotechnical data cannot be gathered all at once but you don’t want to wait until all data is gathered before you can start your project. By dividing the canal into sections, you can easily start calculating for the parts that you already received geotechnical data about, so the project can already start before all data is gathered.

Data and results can easily be viewed within the application itself. However, you can also download reports into Excel sheets if you like to. Results are presented in tables, graphs, and maps. Tables present the actual calculation for each section combined with the D-sheet (basic formula), gef-file for the indicated area, and cross sections of the canal in each part of that area. Graphs and map views provide an easy and quick visual overview of every sheet pile and show for each one whether they meet the requirements or not.

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Exported calculation results in an Excel sheet

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Visualization of calculation results in a graph in the VIKTOR application

Project 3: Design of the A16 tunnel

The project

Together with joint venture de Groene Boog, BESIX designed the 2.2 kilometre long A16 tunnel through Rotterdam. This tunnel consists of many similar tunnel sections, thousands of foundations and sheet piles, a detailed 3D BIM model, and numerous technical drawings.

The project focusses on the automation of repetitive work for the structural design of the tunnel to improve the process. To do this, several small tools are developed in-house to facilitate geotechnical analysis of the foundation and sheet piles. For the design of the reinforced concrete tunnel structure a tool has been developed together with an external partner on a cloud-based platform.

Sheet pile design automation

Over 4000 sheet piles were to be designed for the tunnel. First, hundreds of CPT measurements needed to be interpreted and matched to the piles for calculation. For this, a spreadsheet had been set up for a custom interpretation of the CPT measurements and a VBA routine to run this process in batch.

For the calculation of the piles, the tools typically used in the Dutch market are straightforward to use, though they do not allow to create parametric calculation models. To avoid the need to manually change the model input for each unique set of soil and loading conditions along the tunnel, we created another spreadsheet to mimic parametric behaviour.

The desired parameters of each individual calculation model are assembled in a single spreadsheet. As the calculation model can be easily read and edited through a text editor, we then use string manipulation to edit the textual contents of the model and create a unique calculation model for each unique set of parameters. These are in a following step computed in batch and the results automatically gathered – again in a spreadsheet– for post-processing.

Automate the boring. Engineer the awesome

VIKTOR is on a mission to unleash the world’s real engineering potential. We are developing a platform where engineers can build their own web-based applications. We work closely together with engineering, construction and manufacturing companies and help them boost their digital transformation. We would love to hear your feedback on our ideas, try out the platform, and help us create the perfect tools that enables you to automate the boring and engineer the awesome!

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