Revolutionizing Utility Construction: The Digitalization of As-Builting Processes

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In the utility sector, spanning electric, gas, water, and telecom industries, the digital transformation of design and records management processes has seen significant investment over the years.

Yet, the as-builting process—a critical step in mapping underground utilities—has lagged, still mired in outdated, paper-based methodologies. This gap in digitalization not only introduces inefficiencies and delays but poses serious safety risks and financial burdens on a national scale.

The Outdated As-Builting Workflow
Despite advancements in Computer-Aided Design (CAD) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS), the as-builting process remains largely unchanged from decades past. The traditional workflow involves sending paper job packets to construction crews, who might encounter unforeseen obstacles requiring deviations from the initial designs. These changes, often significant, are rarely documented accurately, leading to a disconnect between actual construction outcomes and GIS records. This lack of reliable data is a root cause of construction delays, budget overruns, and, more gravely, injuries and fatalities on work sites.

The Need for Modernization
The push towards grid modernization, fueled by the adoption of distributed energy resources and heightened by the pandemic-induced need for touchless operations, underscores the necessity for an accurate digital twin of utility infrastructure. Similarly, initiatives aimed at increasing grid resilience, such as moving overhead wires underground or adjusting to catastrophic events, demand a more efficient handling of construction data to match the pace and scale of such transformations.

Persistent Challenges in As-Builting
Resistance to change, reliance on legacy processes, and the diversity of roles involved in construction projects complicate the transition to digital as-builting. The complexity of translating technical designs into actionable construction plans, coupled with the ambiguity around the ownership of the as-builting process, further exacerbates the issue. These challenges highlight a sector-wide need for a comprehensive digital solution that caters to the various stakeholders involved in utility construction.

The Path to Digitalization
Advancements in mobile technology, cloud computing, and high-accuracy GPS systems offer a viable path to overcoming these obstacles. By equipping field crews with user-friendly mobile applications and precision tools, utilities can enable real-time, on-site data capture that bridges the gap between construction activities and GIS records. This approach not only enhances the accuracy and reliability of utility maps but also streamlines the entire construction workflow, reducing delays and improving safety.

A Success Story: Digitalizing Underground Duct Banks Mapping
A contractor working on a major utility project in California demonstrated the profound impact of adopting digital construction workflows. Faced with stringent requirements for capturing GPS locations with high precision, the contractor leveraged in-house capabilities to collect survey-grade data without the need for external survey crews. This shift not only met the project's precision requirements but also delivered significant cost savings and operational efficiencies, showcasing the tangible benefits of digital as-builting processes.

Moving Forward
The transition to digital as-builting represents a critical step forward for the utility sector, promising to address long-standing issues of data accuracy, safety, and efficiency. As utilities continue to navigate the complexities of grid modernization and infrastructure resilience, embracing digital workflows in construction and as-builting processes will be indispensable. By doing so, utilities can reduce the economic and human costs associated with outdated practices, paving the way for a safer, more efficient future.

This blog post draws on insights from Danny Petrecca's presentation at the Canadian Underground Forum (CUF), underscoring the urgency and benefits of digitalizing the as-builting process in utility construction. For further exploration of this topic, viewers are encouraged to access the full range of talks available on the GeoIgnite CUF YouTube channel.

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