Eco-engineering the future of heavy equipment and infrastructure projects with data 

Eco-engineering the future of heavy equipment and infrastructure projects with data 

In this article, Shweta Saxena, CEO of MachineMax, discusses the bright, green future of infrastructure projects through the power of data engineering. 

Infrastructure and utility projects are the bedrock of a functioning society yet could also be jeopardising the planet’s future. The construction and infrastructure sector accounts for over half of the UK’s total carbon emissions, placing it at the forefront of the climate change discussion.  

Compounding the issue, a recent survey conducted by our team revealed that almost two-fifths of industry professionals are unclear about the carbon footprint of their off-highway fleet, highlighting a gap in understanding the environmental impact of fleet management and its role in achieving Net Zero goals. This indicates an urgent need for increased awareness and education within the industry, as well as a comprehensive approach to emission management that is baked in from the start of projects. The implementation of intelligent sensors, telematics and data-driven solutions is a force multiplier for tackling this problem and this article will delve into the topic in greater detail. 

Addressing the source of emissions  

Carbon emissions from heavy construction machinery, such as off-highway fleets, present a significant challenge that must be addressed. Due to their high energy usage and reliance on diesel, industry research estimates that earthwork emissions in road projects can generate more than 90% of all equipment greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions on site, along with other harmful pollutants. We could still be a long way off affordably using hydrogen or electricity to fuel heavy equipment like graders, rollers and pavers, so we need an immediate alternative solution. The industry is making efforts through technologies like green concrete and offsite construction to reduce the carbon-intensive nature of infrastructure projects. However, questions remain about progress with site machinery and whether technology is being fully utilised to mitigate these emissions. 

Data’s role in cutting emissions 

Data is increasingly becoming a critical tool for smarter work in construction. By closely monitoring equipment metrics such as utilisation, idling time, fuel consumption, location and operating hours, teams can leverage insights to identify patterns in operational inefficiencies. Telematics, combined with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning, offers powerful real-time insights, enabling proactive identification of challenges and enhancing operational efficiency. 

Yet, accessing and interpreting live data across entire fleets can be expensive, time-consuming and ultimately challenging. While the construction industry produces vast amounts of valuable machine data daily, around 96% of this digital gold dust goes unused. What’s more, 90% of the data is unstructured, making it difficult to manage and share. In the context of CO2 emissions specifically, the lack of standardised CO2 benchmarking and data practices results in fragmented datasets and missed opportunities to leverage this data, impeding efforts to hit looming industry Net Zero goals. 

A standardised data approach  

By establishing a benchmarking system and setting a universal baseline, the infrastructure construction sector can pinpoint and address vehicle inefficiencies, like idling hotspots, offering decreased emissions, reduced project delays and lower operational costs. 

Establishing collaborative and robust data standards is imperative for informed decision-making and reducing the carbon footprint. These standards serve as a foundation for consistent and accurate data collection, crucial for assessing and managing the carbon impact of construction activities. As the construction industry becomes more digital, there’s a burgeoning need to share structured data. These standards are crucial for ensuring that different parties involved in a construction project use the same data formats and protocols, enhancing collaboration and reducing the risk of errors. 

Harnessing data with tech  

The rise of the Internet of Things, telematics and AI is making it more feasible and cost-effective to manage data in construction. Telematics and data solutions are the lifeblood of automated tracking tools that monitor operational efficiency. While telematics is not a new technology, the challenge of effective aggregation and analysis of data remains a hurdle for fully leveraging site data thanks to disparate platforms.  

This is where cloud-based aggregation comes into play. Consolidating data into a single platform and employing AI-driven analytics to make sense of it allows firms to access critical information from the field and transform raw data into actionable intelligence immediately, helping to drive impactful changes in operational efficiency. It’s also crucial to avoid drowning in data and to adopt a scaled approach, focusing on crucial areas and metrics like fuel consumption.  

Creating a sustainable roadmap  

Looking ahead, infrastructure contractors need to focus on practical and sustainable strategies. While the long-term goal is to introduce cleaner machines powered by alternative energy, time is of the essence. Today, we need a parallel focus on operational efficiency with current tools and transparency about machinery’s impact.  

With the infrastructure industry’s contribution to the nation’s carbon emissions, there is an urgent need to rethink and remodel traditional practices. Embracing innovative solutions like telematics, AI and robust data standards is not just a technological leap but a necessary stride towards realising a Net Zero future. As we navigate towards a world where green credentials are as important as economic gain, the goal is clear: to build a sustainable, data-driven framework for projects where progress does not come at the expense of our planet. 

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