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Subsurface Utility Engineering as a Disruptive Innovation By definition, Disruptive Innovation is “a term in the field of business administration, which refers to an innovation that creates a new market and value network and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network, displacing established products.” The contention of this article is that the correct practice of Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE) is very much a disruptive innovation, but in a very much intended positive context. National engineering consultancy firm Wood & Grieve Engineers (WGE) are working with Standards Australia and Engineers Australia to improve the country’s generally poorly regulated approach to managing underground utilities. The new approach looks to focus on solutions implemented during the engineering design process rather than waiting until construction occurs, as is current practice. The Standards Australia committee that has been formed to upgrade the content of the existing AS5488, to include for the SUE component, is being led by former Queensland Department of Main Roads Director General Bruce Wilson. SUE refers to an engineering management process that involves engineering, geophysics and geospatial disciplines and technologies to manage certain risks associated with utility mapping at appropriate quality levels, utility coordination, utility relocation design and coordination, utility condition assessment, communication of Subsurface Utility Information (SUI) utility data to concerned parties, utility relocation cost estimates, implementation of utility accommodation policies, and utility designs. Essentially, without SUE, the industry has no single 'rulebook' for relevant project or asset owners, local authorities or state government bodies to mandate for all design engineers.

Similar injury statistics are not readily available across Australia, however Dial Before You Dig reports that they receive more than 1000 reports of pipe damage incidents every month. WGE in conjunction with Engineers Australia, Consult Australia and Open Learning has created an on-line training course to lift the understanding and importance of subsurface utility engineering across the country. In short, the intent of the on-line training material is to inform all participants that SUE should be recognised as a specialist area of engineering and that as a positive disruption the new AS5488 will better serve the industry and all utility stakeholders. The primary aim of the AS5488 upgrade is to incorporate the engineering management of subsurface utilities to bring it into line with five other countries (UK, USA, Canada, Malaysia and Ecuador) that have effective equivalent standards in place.

Five countries have SUE standards in place— the USA, Canada, UK, Malaysia and Ecuador

In an attempt to mirror similar international standards relating to underground utilities, its subject matter is largely survey based but has neither the breadth, nor industry buy-in of its international counterparts.

Recent data from the UK indicates that on average each year there are 12 deaths and 600 serious injuries attributed to contact with the electricity network alone.

WGE’s National Underground Utility Manager Rob Sansbury, in association with Standards Australia and Engineers Australia is working to change this.

As the UK standard has not been in place long enough, there is no comparable data available to indicate how well it is addressing this safety issue.

“In short, we want SUE to be recognised as a specialist area of engineering and we want there to be a rulebook for all design engineers,” Sansbury says.

Sansbury notes that the upgraded AS5488 is likely to be released to the market in early 2019. “A key factor in the success of the upgraded AS5488 will be if it is released to an informed marketplace. The current AS5488 has not been well adopted and we realised that, in parallel with upgrading AS5488 we needed to create a training course that was accessible to all.” The on-line course is not expensive at $285, takes only 8 hours to complete and gives a strong overview of SUE as well as some detail about what the upgraded AS5488 is aiming to achieve. Course attendees are able to directly input what they think the upgraded AS5488 should include which is a first of its kind. In addition, the on-line training method could equally be viewed as a disruption to the previous normative manner of technical training “in a classroom during regulated periods”. “It has only been released to the market for a few months and the feedback that’s been received has been overwhelmingly positive” Rob Sansbury Wood & Grieve Engineers

Check out the on-line course here courses/intro-to-subsurface-utilities-eng

2018 March Consulting Matters  

Consult Australia's official quarterly publication focuses on the issues which are prevalent in the consulting industry through articles and...

2018 March Consulting Matters  

Consult Australia's official quarterly publication focuses on the issues which are prevalent in the consulting industry through articles and...