How to automate interpretations and speed up geotechnical calculations

In this article, the problems that geotechnical engineers face are described, our solution is presented, and a brief look into creation of the Geo-Tools application is given. The article is concluded with a summary of the advantages of using the Geo-Tools and sharing knowledge.

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Introduction

Most of our clients in the civil engineering sector are dependent on geotechnical advice for each of the projects that they are involved in. Ranging from building a simple pile foundation to building a 5 km long road, tunnel or dike, each of these projects requires site specific analyses of the soil that will be build on. In other words, the field of Geotechnical engineering holds a vast variety in domain knowledge, processes and tools. 

The problem

With the size of civil engineering projects increasing, and the amount of available data increasing even more, the average geotechnical engineer is expected to do a lot of number-crunching on soil data. They need to provide a more and more accurate interpretation of the soil layout and everything that is needed to perform detailed analysis on foundations, settlements or other geotechnical projects. However, not every civil engineering project requires the same processes to follow or the same type of soil interpretation. 

Since the majority of these tasks are day-to-day things, a bespoke application solving one task very well isn’t required. However, having something that is going to save the geotechnical engineer significant time from day 1 is very useful.

The solution

VIKTOR is developing the Geo-Tools web application. This application is a compilation of several geotechnical tools, functionalities and digital building blocks, which can be used in the day-to-day work of any geotechnical engineer. The soil data sets, which are at the core of any geotechnical analysis, will be centralized in the VIKTOR platform, while the application also provides numerous different tools to reduce the amount of repetitive work for the engineer and at the same time improve the insight that the geotechnical engineer can obtain from these ever increasing datasets. 

Geo-Tools application

The Geo-Tools applications provides numerous tools related to storing and interpreting soil data, visualizing and cleaning the soil data, preparing the data for in-depth geotechnical analyses and even integrating the data with other software packages or databases, such as ArcGIS or the BRO database. This article describes the process of gathering which geotechnical tools are needed, followed by a description of the implemented tools and those that are still to come and finally it discusses the format in which these tools are provided to the engineer.

Mapping out the needs of the geotechnical engineer

In order to create an application that could help any geotechnical engineer in his/her day-to-day job, an overview of the most frequently performed tasks was needed. For this, many different geotechnical engineers from many of our existing clients were individually contacted to gather feedback and gain insight into their day to day job. 

The first Minimum Viable Product was released exclusively to these geotechnical engineers and contained a first set of tools. These engineers from different companies were given access to the same application, sharing the same experience and the same data. This allowed each engineer to not only have a look at how the application works, but also at how other engineers are using the application. This was done to promote transparency, sharing feedback and seeing the possibilities of the application from different perspectives.

The released application provided a section where every user could leave his/her feedback, upload screenshots and provide new ideas and concepts for improvement. This way, the users are involved in the development process; we work with the geotechnical engineers, instead of for them. This ensures that the Geo-Tools application is useful for every geotechnical engineer out there. As such, the engineers do not directly pay money for the application, but they pay with knowledge and feedback, so that we can enable them to unlock their full engineering potential.

This philosophy, where the end-users are deeply involved and an integral part in the development process leads to a very useful application with a lot of impact for the end-users.  The Geo-Tools application is the first app where we have applied this philosophy and with success. It would be great if many more applications will follow. This kind of developments make the whole industry smarter and make us go forward as a society. If you share our vision and think your sector could benefit of developing applications in this same way, please leave a comment or feel free to contact us. Together we want to unlock the world’s engineering potential.

Platform for managing, structuring and visualizing geotechnical data

The application provides a platform for uploading and storing soil data, in this case a Cone Pressure Test (CPT) data. This can be in the shape of the (most commonly used) GEF file, but it can also be provided as an XML file, or even downloaded from the BRO database directly. This ensures that the soil data is centralized and available regardless of the format it is in.

Another digital building block is available for the classification and interpretation of the CPT data, which cleans and filters the data so it can be used in subsequent analyses. The user can select which type of classification method is used, which includes the standard Robertson method, a Table method based on user-provided soil characteristics, and even a Machine Learning algorithm developed by CRUX. This clean data can then by visualized to the user. The user can inspect the data and update the data where necessary. 

The application also provides insight to the user on a higher level. Multiple CPT data sets can be inspected side-by-side to show how the soil changes from one point to the next. A CPT data set is always measured at a specific latitude-longitude coordinate. By combining several CPT data sets from different locations, a 2D or 3D interpretation of the soil layers can be calculated. This can be visualized to the user with intuitive and interactive 2D and 3D plots. If the geotechnical engineer does not agree with the interpretation provided by the application, he/she can modify the soil layouts manually. These visualizations can help with many types of civil engineering projects, such as pile foundations, dikes and dams, or road construction.

Integrate with several external Geotechnical software packages and databases

For the managing and storing of soil data, the application seamlessly integrates with the Basisregistratie Ondergrond (BRO) database. Any CPT data that is uploaded in the application can be directly registered to the BRO database. If the user would like to inspect the soil of a specific region in the Netherlands, but does not have the required CPT data sets available, the data can be requested from the BRO database from inside the VIKTOR application. 

Integrations with the different Deltares software packages enables the User to use the available soil data directly in a number of geotechnical analyses. The current version of the Geo-Tools application integrates the soil layout data with the D-Settlement software enabling the user to quickly set-up advanced soil settlement calculations. 

In the next update of the application, other software packages could be integrated, such as D-Stability, D-Sheetpiling or the D-Foundations software (see article Automation in D-Foundations for more in-depth information on how such an integration works).

These integrations ensure that the tedious steps required to set up a calculation in any Deltares software package, can be reduced to a single press of a button, reducing the time to set up a calculation from a couple of minutes down to a couple of seconds. 

Plug and play application with the option to customize

With a standard app like the Geo-Tools application, there is no need to go through the process of developing a fully bespoke/custom application. There is also no need for the client to spend any of their own time to build a useful application. The end-users can start using the tools from the very first day. 

Fortunately, the client does not only have access to a plug-and-play application, suited to their every need, they also have access to the source code of the application. This allows every engineer to add additional tooling for their unique processes, while having a solid foundation for the basic functionalities. It not only makes the application extremely customizable, it also helps developers by providing a set of pre-assembled digital building blocks that they can inspect and re-use in different applications (some examples of the Geo building blocks are provided below).

Each of the modules in the source code of the application is extensively documented, to ensure that every developer that takes a look under the hood of the application, knows exactly what is going on and can quickly tweak the code to their personal needs.

Conclusion

The Geo-tools application has been developed for every geotechnical engineer who wants to speed up his/her daily processes and at the same time increase the amount of data he/she uses to improve the accuracy of their models. They can start reaping the benefits from the moment they log in to the VIKTOR Platform. 

The VIKTOR platform ensures that the data required for the geotechnical calculations is all centralized in a single place. The centralized data is easily coupled with many different software packages that geotechnical engineer uses for in-depth technical analyses. The tools provided in the application will greatly reduce the time needed to spend on tedious day-to-day tasks. 

This opens up many new possibilities for taking geotechnical engineering to the next level. Geotechnical engineers can start evaluating a great many different designs in an optimization scheme, reduce uncertainty in calculations by using more soil data, or simply take on bigger projects.  In the future, we like to move towards collaboration across companies and create an open-source community for (geotechnical) engineers. Any geotechnical engineer that would like to add a new digital building block to the application will be able to contribute and improve the geotechnical community as a whole.

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Digital building blocks for geotechnical engineering

The digital transformation is currently leaving no sector untouched. The combination of using data and digital technologies cleverly also offers many opportunities in the Construction and Infrastructure sectors. The benefits seem obvious. Subject-matter specialists no longer have to make manual repetitive calculations or analyses. This saves time and is more efficient, which reduces costs. Automation offers the possibility to not only calculate a greater number of scenarios, but also more quickly, with better quality and fewer risks as a result. At the same time, the digital transformation does not always run smoothly. Developments are taking longer than planned and expected, and adoption is slow. Sometimes it looks like a minefield. But how do you unlock this potential as a sector? A toolbox with digital building blocks that offers usable solutions is already providing geotechnical engineering with the answer to many digital challenges.

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