Better Risk Management in Ground Engineering

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Article provided by Phil Hines, Federation of Piling Specialists

Almost all construction experts agree that the greatest risk to a construction project is ground conditions and in particular, when ground conditions are different to those expected. Equally most people agree that employing computers to analyse vast amounts of data and present it in a user-friendly way is far more effective than having humans reading reams of data, transposing data into different formats such as excel and producing 2-D plots from which to produce designs etc. So why is it that Federation of Piling Specialist (FPS) members in a recent survey responded that they still receive 96% of the site investigation (SI) data and information, on which they have to base their advice, solutions and pricing, as pdf documents?

The first and obvious thought might be that it is because digital data does not exist? Wrong! The Association of Geotechnical Specialists (AGS) launched the common data transfer format for site investigation data in 1991, which is almost 30 years ago! This was well before BIM or Common Data Environment had become commonly known digital terms in the construction industry. The AGS are currently leading a cross industry working group that are looking at better ways to procure, specify and distribute SI information including the use of AGS data.  So, the SI contractors are producing the digital data needed to make the optimal interpretation of the conditions, but the FPS specialist contractors are not receiving it. This begs the question – where is it?

All around us we hear about the power of digital data, yet construction is painfully slow in adapting. The government’s challenge to the industry becoming BIM level 2 compliant caused a scare for a while and got people interested in the topic but has it really changed the way we work. On many construction projects there are teams of architects and consulting engineers pouring over project models but how many of them include the AGS format soil information and why is it not shared with the specialist contractors?

The specialist contractors can help the client better manage the risk in the ground developing innovative solutions, but these can only be fully optimised by having the best possible understanding of the ground conditions. Having the data will also help us specialists more accurately assess the ground conditions and their effects on methodology, production rates etc., reducing risk priced into projects. Having a common understanding of the ground conditions will also help in reducing conflict when things are different because the base assumptions will be more clearly established. But there is a word of caution just because we use the digital information does not mean that the actual ground conditions will not vary on occasions because that is the beauty of geotechnics!

So next time you receive a SI report please ask where the AGS format data is held and how you can transmit it (or give access to it) to the specialist contractor members of the FPS along with that tender enquiry! Please do not wait to be asked for it – we often only get one to two weeks to price a project and we need this information at the start not halfway through the tender period. Then working together, we can better manage the risk in ground engineering for the benefit of all.

News Data Management

Version 3.1 of the AGS Format to be retired from 8th March 2018

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An earlier version of the digital data transfer format used to transfer ground investigation, laboratory testing and monitoring data rapidly between contributing parties to a geotechnical or geoenvironmental project will cease to be supported from 8th March 2018.

Version 3.1a of the Association of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Specialists (AGS) digital data transfer format, the so called ‘AGS Format’, was published in March 2005 and has been widely adopted within the ground engineering industry.

In May 2010 version 4 of the AGS Format was published, and has been gaining users and popularity since then. The latest 4.0.4 update was released in February 2017 in response to new laboratory industry standards and updated UK practice, and contains many features that are not available in the old 3.1 version.

The maintenance and updating of the AGS Format is carried out by a working group of volunteers. The decision to retire AGS 3.1 has been taken in order to allow the working group more time for future developments, and to speed up the response times to queries posted on the website.

Jackie Bland, Leader of the AGS Data Management Working Group said:

“This does not mean that industry colleagues will have to stop using the AGS 3.1 format, but it simply means that the working group will no longer respond to queries on 3.1 or its associated codes.

This should free up time to provide a swifter response to queries related to AGS4, which should now be the go-to choice for the efficient transfer of ground investigation, laboratory testing and monitoring data.”

Notes to Editors:
In 1991 the Association of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Specialists (AGS) set up, and subsequently has supported, a Working Group to establish and maintain a digital data transfer format.

This format, known to many simply as ‘AGS Format’, has now been generally accepted as the most appropriate means to transfer ground investigation, laboratory testing and monitoring data rapidly between the contributing parties to a project that involves geotechnical or geoenvironmental elements.

Since its first publication in 1991 the AGS Format has become the de-facto industry standard for the reliable transfer of ground engineering data in the UK and has been adopted and adapted for use around the globe, including Hong Kong, New Zealand, Singapore and Australia.
The AGS Format enables transfer of geotechnical and geoenvironmental data in a digital form. It allows for the standardised representation of factual information, focusing on field and laboratory test results and monitoring data. AGS Format data are typically generated by a ground investigation specialist, a testing laboratory or on-site drilling crews and technicians and then shared with all project team members, be they designers, or contractors carrying out construction.

This team then uses the data without time consuming and expensive re-keying of data with the associated potential for errors or incomplete data entry.

Following completion of the project, the AGS Format data is easily archived and passed into the asset management sphere, for retrieval at a later date without requiring knowledge of the software used in its generation, or a requirement to have access to that software.

For more information contact:
Katie Kennedy
Association of Geotechnical & Geoenvironmental Specialists
Forum Court, Office 205
Devonshire House Business Centre
29-31 Elmfield Road
Kent BR1 1LT

Tel: +44 (0)20 8658 8212

Article Business Practice Data Management

AGS guides the way

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AGS Client Guides are intended to help Members get their message about good practice across to clients and to reassure Clients that these are actually industry views – not just the aberration of a particular individual or company.

Building on the often quoted (but possibly unsubstantiated) view that clients will only read a single sheet, most of the Guides are a single A4 card – with straightforward layout and even some illustrations.   They are intended to be handed or sent to clients as part of pre contract negotiations, or accompanying tenders, or as part of routine mail shots.

Copies are available from the AGS on request (without charge) or can be downloaded from the website (see Publications).

Available Guides:

  •  CDM – Client Obligations in Site Investigation Contracts
  • A Client’s Guide to Site Investigation
  • Desk Studies
  • AGS Guidelines for Good Practice in Site Investigation Contracts (Issue 2)
  • AGS Data Format