Near Auckland, New Zealand, the $709.5M National Motorway project is underway. Extending from Pūhoi to Warkworth, this massive roadwork job will expand the four-lane National Motorway, a.k.a SH1, 18.5km (11.5mi).
The NZ Transport Agency and Northern Express Group (NX2) are running this project, which is expected to move 8 million cubic meters of earth over five years. According to the project’s website, “The Northern Express Group is made up of New Zealand and overseas firms with considerable experience in the design, construction, finance, maintenance and management of major infrastructure projects.”
We spoke with Digital Engineers Haydn Bradfield and Liam Callaghan, and Key Relationships Manager Karstens Stevens, who all work for the Fletcher Construction Company involved in the National Motorway expansion.
They told us about how they’ve used Trimble Stratus, powered by Propeller as a full-fledged worksite management solution. (Trimble, the global leader in positioning technologies, was an early partner of Propeller. Our teams work closely together to deliver Trimble Stratus survey-grade drone data solutions for civil construction.)
The worksite management concept comes down to four things: a source of truth for all worksite data, accurate data with easy access, improved efficiency, and ever-expanded uses for Propeller. After using Propeller since January, “we actually can’t live without it now,” said Stevenson.
The usual methods of data sharing and dissemination weren’t sustainable on a project like this. “I’d be queried maybe 50 to 60 times a week,” recalled Callaghan about his day-to-day before using Propeller. This volume stemmed from data siloing, as well as the sheer number of stakeholders.
“Only a couple weeks after launching [Propeller], my queries were down to between five and 10,” said Callaghan. “And now, I probably get three to four a week.” But it’s more than just a decrease in admin work he’s seen on the engineering side of things.
Because Propeller is shared among 120 people on site—surveyors, engineers, geotech professionals, and more—everyone can get the answers they need on their own. So when Callaghan gets queries now, they’re design inputs because people have already done the research themselves.
New Zealand’s functional earthwork season is October through May, and there are environmental resource consent restrictions, limiting when earthwork can be done.
“That’s because of the level of sedimentation that’s generated in these relatively young stores that we have in New Zealand,” explained Stevenson. “We have a five-month shutdown over winter when we can do minor works.” Essentially, every work day on the National Motorway project matters because they have a limited time to work each year.
That’s why transparency and data access are paramount. “We’ve given everyone access to [Propeller],” explained Stevenson. “We have such a massive team and the engineers are spread out over the project, they use it almost every day to go in and do their planning and checking.”
“Most of the computers we walk past [have a bit of Propeller] popping up on their screens,” recalled Stevenson.
A surveyor like Bradfield uses Propeller two to three times per hour. “I don’t tend to use it for myself in my design work, but I use it for all of my deliverables and sharing now,” he explained. “The guys can come and explain what I’m looking at and I can remodel that and put it into [Propeller] and they can see it the same time as I can.” That instant update to the map means no one needs to travel to and from site to see changes.
For an engineer like Callaghan, “I want to be actively using it for design work or reviews two to three times an hour,” he said. “I open two or three tabs on the computer to be very specific about a certain zone, and I don’t want to have to move around.”
Along with the benefits of having data current and shareable, there’s a huge need for precise quantity tracking.
Earth movement is done by a mix of NX2’s own people and subcontractors. Before Propeller, it was difficult to quantify the work of individual groups because of how close the work areas were.
Having access to accurate quantities easily and quickly has gone a long way towards solving discrepancies that arise in tight quarters. “Showing them that the survey, one, is accurate in [Propeller] and, two, that we can quickly pull out a poly that’s very, very close to the number that they think they got. That’s been a win for us,” said Bradfield
Further, using such a visual tool to address disputes reduces confusion. “Because you can physically see that it’s a visual tool, the arguments disappear very quickly. The discussion’s fairly short and succinct, and that’s been really helpful,” Callaghan said.
Because fewer disputes arise, and those that occur are resolved more quickly, NX2 has seen efficiency increases in terms of billing each month and tracking quantities. A quicker turnaround like this lets everyone get back to work faster.
Another real-world example comes from NX2’s safety team. “They can go around it and interrogate what the landscape looks like,” explained Stevenson. “We can go see how steep the wall roads were, what the ground looks like around that period of time.” Being able to inspect the site for potential safety hazards from their browser, saves the team time walking around on site and interrupting operations.
On a project this big, with work so dispersed, it can be hard to quantify the ROI on a tool everyone uses for a different reason. But one common theme is putting time back on the clock.
We asked Bradfield to share his own experience with Propeller. “At least 50% of my workload has been freed up,” he explained. “I have taken on an entirely new role on top of my role because that amount of time is free.” This kind of time savings doesn’t happen quietly.
NX2’s entire team wanted in on the benefits. In the beginning, two site teams were formally onboarded to Propeller, totally about 14 individuals. But today, they have 120 users.
If your company is like most, getting people to use new software is an uphill battle. NX2 found that resistance goes down when people can see how it will improve their own day-to-day—and if it’s recommended by a teammate.
Stevenson explained how they did it: “All by word of mouth. Someone sees what we do and they’re like, ‘how do I get that?’ And you’re like, ‘what’s your email?’ So, it was just a rolling ball of people being like, ‘Wow. That’s really cool. Can I get that?”’ They shared access more and more, until everyone could get the answers they needed on the platform.
As a poster-child project for discovering new use cases, even Callaghan, Bradfield, and Stevenson were surprised at how far-reaching Propeller has been on the National Motorway project.
“The gains that we got out of it have been across the board phenomenal,” said Callaghan. It’s changed the way people work, across roles.
Bradfield sums it up: “You think you’re just giving them a good set of tools so they can do a bit more, but actually, the guys onsite have used it a hell of a lot more. They’re not coming in with questions. They’re coming in when they need something seriously helped and seriously redesigned. All the small stuff they can do themselves.”
In perhaps the best recommendation, users are also spreading the word to other companies: “There are three people that have left the project [and who now work at competitors], called me independently to say, ‘What was the name of that thing that we were using in the other project?’” said Callaghan. It’s Propeller.
NX2 uses Trimble Stratus powered by Propeller.