Engineering goes digital: L&T executing projects with new-age technologies

Construction work being remotely managed by engineers at L&T’s Mumbai office
Four years ago, Larsen & Toubro (L&T) was looking at ways to digitally transform many of its businesses. The engineering and construction giant with a revenue of $21 billion set up a small team of just three people to drive this initiative.

Today, the team, led by its chief digital officer Anantha Sayana, has swelled to over a 100 members and is at the forefront of conceptualising and building solutions, leveraging several of L&T’s new-age technologies. These initiatives have helped the engineering major to improve the utilisation of its machines by at least 10-15 per cent. In fact, the group has become a model for the global construction industry on how to transform itself by using cutting-edge technologies.

The digital solutions have been implemented at hundreds of L&T Construction’s project sites and factories, covering thousands of equipment, materials and workmen. From tracking machines to collecting data from them, to tracking raw material, training staff and mapping of inaccessible terrains for projects, L&T has successfully leveraged all these technologies.

According to CEO and Managing Director S N Subrahmanyan, the company is using technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality (AR/VR), Big Data and Analytics, RFID and QR Codes and advanced image-sensing technologies like LiDAR or Light Detection and Ranging to not only improve performance, execute difficult projects, but also to ensure the safety of its staff.

One such interesting project is the Medigadda barrage, dubbed as the world’s biggest lift irrigation system. Part of the Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation Project and located in a remote, Naxal-infested part of Telangana, here, the company used IoT solutions to limit the physical presence of workers. IoT was used to monitor in real time the production of concrete, track the movement of transit mixers and even the pouring of concrete. The data captured from the machines, transit mixers and trucks were captured and transmitted to remote dashboards that were constantly monitored by operating managers. 

According to Sayana, over 11,000 machines at the company’s project sites around the world have been equipped with latest technologies, giving real-time data and visibility.

Another colossal L&T project where technology has played a huge role is the Statue of Unity — the steel, concrete and brass-clad statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, located in the Narmada valley in Gujarat. Geospatial technologies like LiDAR surveys were used to get intricate details of the terrain of the site, the island and the river bed during various stages of construction. Radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology was used for the correct identification and installation of the over 6,000 bronze panels that went into the making of the statue. This is because, even though the panels looked similar, they constituted different parts of the statue. 

The company has also used LiDAR in other projects such as the Bar-Bilara-Jodhpur road project, smart city projects in Nagpur, a surveillance system in Mumbai and the City Surveillance and Intelligent Traffic Management System in Hyderabad. Drone-based photometry, which quickly and accurately surveys linear road projects, has been used at the Dholera Special Investment Region site in Gujarat and the Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India Projects in the Eastern and Western corridors.

“The popularity of real-time surveying lies in its simplicity, quickness, accuracy and the elimination of all human errors. It is most handy when executing locations near the sea as it enables automatic stakeout of pile locations on the coast,” says the company.

Geospatial technologies like ground-penetrating radar, which provides an X-ray vision into what lies below the surface, have also been useful for the company in executing water and effluent treatment projects.

L&T is also using AR/VR technologies to demonstrate safety practices to its employees. Bar codes at every project sites make periodic inspections easy. Using a safety app, site engineers and supervisors can instantly check good compliance processes such as pre-start inspection, incident reporting and rectification, among others.

Geospatial technologies were used to intricately study the terrain of the site for the statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in the Narmada valley in Gujarat
The Alchemy

It is perhaps fitting that L&T has named its big data engine Alchemy, a word that refers to the medieval practice that attempted to extract gold out of base metals. All the digital data generated by the connected machineries go to ‘Alchemy’ for processing and provide insights into the company’s operations. These include productivity trends of machines, identification of machines to be de-hired or moved to another project site, identifying anomalies in weigh bridge measurements and fuel consumption, among others.

Sayana reveals that most of the solutions are designed in-house or with the help of group technology companies such as LTI, LTTS and L&T- NXT. L&T-NXT, which is a new business unit, looks at taking the innovative digital solutions to external clients in adjacent sectors like oil and gas, power and utilities, transportation and logistics, construction and manufacturing. 

That’s not all. RFID and bluetooth technologies are being used to match workers to their assigned task locations and indicate when they stray into hazardous areas. A comprehensive database of the skills of all workers help the company to assign the right resource for the right job. 

“Our ultimate digital vision is of the ‘connected worker’ who, with ‘wearables’ can be ‘sensed’. And this can play a vital role in ensuring his safety. Sensors and beacons on workers can detect altitude, temperature and other environmental conditions and also monitor their vitals such as heartbeat, pulse rate, blood pressure and fatigue,” the company said.

When it comes to plant and machinery, the company is working on a 3D Grade control system in motor graders, which is equivalent to a driverless car in the construction industry. The system, when ready, will be able to measure blade positions through GPS and control their movement by referring to a 3D design model of the road preloaded on the Grade Control system to achieve precise accuracy.

As part of Industry 4.0, L&T’s large welding machines at its factory in Hazira, Gujarat, are now connected and automated. The factory has a modular fabrication facility as well as heavy engineering, defence, shipbuilding, and power equipment manufacturing facilities.

An interesting showcase of the company’s digital capabilities, as also its heritage and legacy, can be witnessed at its digital museum in Chennai. A walk through of this touch-enabled, multimedia museum gives the visitors a peep into L&T Construction’s capabilities. The iPad interactive mosaic/architectural LED video wall showcases the company’s 30 most iconic projects. When visitors leave, a telepresence robot bids farewell to them by recording a video or taking a digitally written feedback from them.

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