How to automate interpretations and speed up geotechnical calculations

If you are a geotechnical engineer, you will recognise how slow and tedious it can be to interpret CPTs, create a 2D soil layout and set up your model with all soil properties. This is especially the case for larger projects with 10 or more CPTs. When working on large infrastructure projects, such as dikes, highways, or tunnels, creating these models can become your daily job. In this article you can read how this can be done more easily.
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Introduction

Over the years we have worked in several civil projects and have seen how much time and energy is wasted making these models. This is not fun, so we decided to something about it. We teamed up with geotechnical engineers across the industry to create the best set of tools to help you save time and make your geotechnical data more insightful. We call them the GeoTools.

In this article you will read about:

  • How these tools are created
  • How you can save time using the GeoTools
  • How you can modify the GeoTools or create your own tools using part of them
  • How you can help in this development

We want everyone to use and help improve these tools. At the end of the article you will find a link to request free access.

The problem

As the size of civil engineering projects grows and the amount of available data continues to increase, the average geotechnical engineer is expected to do even more number-crunching on soil data. They have to provide an increasingly accurate interpretation of the soil layout and everything necessary to perform detailed analyses 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 everyday things, a custom application that solves one task very well isn’t required. However, it would be very useful to have something that can save the geotechnical engineer a lot of time from day one.

The solution

VIKTOR is developing the GeoTools web application. This application is a compilation of several geotechnical tools, functionalities and digital building blocks, which can be used in the daily work of any geotechnical engineer. The soil datasets, which are at the core of any geotechnical analysis, are centralised in the VIKTOR platform, while the application also provides a variety of tools to reduce the amount of repetitive work for the engineer while improving the insight that the geotechnical engineer can get from these ever-expanding datasets. 

GeoTools application

The GeoTools applications provides numerous tools related to storing and interpreting soil data, visualising 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 what geotechnical tools are needed, followed by a description of the implemented tools and the tools to come, and finally discusses the format in which these tools are provided to the engineer.

Mapping out the needs of the geotechnical engineer

To create an application that can help any geotechnical engineer in his/her day-to-day work, 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 an initial 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, share feedback and view the possibilities of the application from different perspectives.

The released application provided a section where any user could leave their feedback, upload screenshots and provide new ideas and concepts for improvement. in this way the users are involved in the development process; we work with the geotechnical engineers, rather than for them.

Following the same philosophy, new versions are continuously released and tested. In addition, periodical feedback sessions are organised with the geotechnical engineers to agree on the following developments. This ensures that the GeoTools application provides real value for every geotechnical engineer out there.

The GeoTools is the first application where we have applied this philosophy and with great success; many more applications will follow. Soon the VIKTOR App Store will be filled with a wide variety of applications created for engineers and developed together with engineers.

Do you have an idea for an app that you would like to develop together with us? Please send us a message, We will be glad to talk with you and explore the possibilities.

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) dataset. This can be in the form of the (most commonly used) GEF file, but also as an XML file, or even downloaded directly from the BRO database. This ensures that the soil data is centralised and available regardless of the format it is in In addition, because it is a web-based application, you and all your colleagues can access the data from anywhere.

Another module within the application is available for the classification and interpretation of the CPT data, which cleans and filters the data for usein subsequent analyses. You can select what 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 filtered data is visualised so that you can inspect the data and update it as needed. 

The application also gives you insight on a higher level. First, the location of all CPTs are shown in a map or satellite view. You can then select multiple CPT datasets and compare them side-by-side to see how the soil changes from one point to the next. By combining several CPT data sets, a 2D or 3D interpretation of the soil layers can be automatically calculated and visualised  in an intuitive and interactive 2D or 3D plot. You can also manually modify the automatically generated soil layouts if desired. These visualisations can help with many types of civil engineering projects, such as pile foundations, dykes 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. All CPT data uploaded in the application can be registered directly to the BRO database. It is also possible to request data from the BRO database, which is useful in case you would like to inspect the soil of a specific region in the Netherlands but you do not have the required CPT data sets available.

By integrating with the variables Deltares software packages, youcan use the available soil data and interpolated profiles directly in a number of geotechnical analyses. The current version of the GeoTools application integrates the soil layout data with the D-Settlement software allowing the user to quickly set up advanced soil settlement calculations. Exporting the soil layout and properties to D-Foundations is also possible. (see article Automation in D-Foundations for more in-depth information on how such an integration works).

In the next update of the application, other software packages can be integrated, such as D-Stability, D-Sheetpiling and Plaxis

These integrations ensure that the tedious steps required to set up a calculation in any of these software package, can be reduced to a single click of a button, reducing the time to set up a calculation from a couple of minutes down to a few seconds. I am curious, with which software packages you would like to integrate with and why? Please tell me in the comments.

If you think the Geotools can help you save time and better understand your geotechnical data, request a free trial here.

In the next section we will discuss how you can program your own applications using the digital building block of the GeoTools. This is an advanced topic for people who know how to use Python. Feel free to go straight to the conclusion if you feel you have enough information now.  

Plug and play application with the option to customize

With a standard app like the GeoTools application, there is no need to go through the process of developing a fully customised application. The client does not have to spend time building a useful application either. The end users can start using the tools from day one. 

Fortunately, the client not only has access to a plug-and-play application, suited to their every need, but also to the source code of the application. This allows any engineer to add additional tooling for their unique processes, while having a solid foundation for the basic functionalities. Not only does it makes the application extremely customisable, it also helps developers by providing a set of pre-assembled digital building blocks that they can inspect and re-use in different applications. (an example of the GEF building block as well as a Cross-section building block are provided below):

Each of the modules in the application’s source code is extensively documented so that any developer who 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 GeoTools application has been developed for any geotechnical engineer who wants to speed up his/her daily processes while increasing the amount of data he/she uses to improve the accuracy of their models. They can reap 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 centralised in a single place. The centralised data is easy to link with many different software packages that a geotechnical engineer uses for in-depth technical analyses. The tools in the application will significantly 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 now evaluate a great many different designs in an optimisation scheme, reduce uncertainty in calculations by using more soil datasets, or simply take on bigger projects. 

In the future, we would like to move towards collaboration across companies and create an open-source community for (geotechnical) engineers. Any geotechnical engineer that wants 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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