Connected and Autonomous Plant - Design for Machines

Published: Mar 2024



Author: TRL, Costain, National Highways

Pages: 44

Reference: XPR132


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The National Highways roadmap for Connected and Autonomous Plant (CAP) (TRL, i3P and HE, 2020) identified a need for the design of highways construction to adapt, with the consumer of the design now potentially being an automated system (Machine Control) instead of a human. It was suggested that the processes to transfer the necessary information for construction from the design model to the Machine Control system require improvement, to achieve the objective of Design for Machines.

To identify the current challenges to achieving Design for Machines, a series of engagement workshops were conducted ;with stakeholders from across the Design for Machines ecosystem. This included representatives of engineering design companies, earthworks contractors, Tier 1 contractors, survey companies and technology providers. This revealed many of the challenges faced by different parties in the design and construction process relating to Design for Machines.

The consultation identified challenges with the Design for Machines process that fall into two broad categories: technical issues with ;the outputs of design models, and wider issues with the organisation of the design and construction feedback loop. The stakeholder engagement process has also identified a number of potential solutions to overcome these barriers, leading to the following recommendations:

Within 2 years:

  • There should be a national specification for models intended for the production of earthworks using Machine Control
  • There should be greater use of tolerances in design models
  • A digital rehearsal should be undertaken to test all systems through which design files will pass, in which all stakeholders in the chain should participate.
Within 10 years:
  • A single digital design model should be shared with all parties involved in the construction. This should be the single source of truth for the design.

Although Machine Control is an early example of automation in construction, addressing the issues with designing for machines will help overcome the barriers to bringing higher levels of automation in future systems. Hence implementing these recommendations may be important to encouraging transition to routine use of Connected and Autonomous Plant (CAP), as set out in the CAP Roadmap and National Highways long-term strategic plan to 2050 (NH, 2023).

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