Doug and former senior industry colleagues, Dr Philip Pells and Anthony Bennett, presented a retrospective of 50 years in the tunnelling industry. As Doug says, “Different stories; same theme: now versus then.”
WSP colleagues, Andy Noble (Technical Executive, Hydropower & Tunnels), Sarah Duckworth (Tunnel Engineer) and Renee Shi (Senior Tunnel Engineer) were in the audience. According to Andy, “Doug’s enthusiasm for the tunnelling industry remains very strong and Doug is a great mentor.”
Doug reflected on his early years when things were simpler, “In the past, projects were far fewer, smaller and initiated by larger agencies with strong technical capability. Many of today’s infrastructure projects are huge, bundled into a few large packages with complex contracts.”
Doug also compared the 20-year planning horizon seen in many SE Asian countries, with today’s “short-term planning in Australia – often justified by business cases focused on current topical issues rather than shaping future directions.”
Innovation is one of Doug’s keen interests, but he is frustrated by the way innovation is often proposed as the solution to our problems and high costs.
“We are encouraged to innovate. But true innovation goes beyond the bounds of existing standards. It must be based on a foundation of research to mitigate the real risks of trying something new,” he says.
Doug argues for a much larger, better managed, industry-led research effort commensurate with our multi-billion tunnelling industry.
He wants to see research that enables, “Breakthroughs in new construction methods, better understanding of materials used in tunnel environments, and development of tunnel design standards to reduce litigation and escalating costs.”
One thing was clear to those listening – just how fast and how much the technology revolution has transformed the tunnelling industry. Sarah Duckworth was amazed to hear about the desktop computer and software that Doug’s (then) company bought in 1985 for today’s equivalent of $50k. As Renee Shi listened, she realised how relatively recently it was when engineers relied solely on pen and paper to complete a design.
Doug wants today’s engineers to think much more about where the industry is heading. As he says, “Consider the tunnelling industry issues that keep you awake at night, nd ask yourself the following questions:
- How might these be best addressed if you apply the ‘if it was me’ test?
- Would you be happy to live in your own house above a wide-span drained cavern?
- Are you confident you’ll be able to find your way through the Sydney underground motorways?
- If you owned that tunnel, would you be happy to operate and maintain it?”
In response to Doug’s insights and thoughts for the way ahead, Andy believes, “As costs reduce and technology improves, we will see more mechanised construction forms for profiles not currently seen.”
Sarah thinks, “Robots will likely help reduce the need for manual labour, which will help improve underground safety. TBMs could become fully autonomous, faster and hopefully run off renewable energy. And I hope we see greener tunnels that use more sustainable materials and clean all spoil disposed.”
And, Renee thinks more works in the future will be automated. “However, it will require engineers to have more in depth technical knowledge to ensure details are not overlooked in the automation process.”
We thank Doug – for the years and depth of experience he has given WSP, his fellow engineers, the tunnelling industry, and the many communities who are safely relishing his successful work.