A digital platform to view and optimise the use of site equipment.

Last updated: 21st January 2022

Date uploaded:

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Innovation Lead: Sherrie Rad
Project number: 105882
UKRI funding: £492,919


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Plant and heavy-duty equipment like excavators and dump trucks can wait on site redundant until used or, worse, doubled up. So BIM Academy led a team to develop a digital platform that could better plan the use of plant. The result is Aquila which combines 3D models of the site, scheduling plans and real-time data from the project. This information is processed using artificial intelligence to synchronise activity and create a sequence for what equipment is needed when. The result is more streamlined projects and smarter use of plant onsite, so the right equipment is in the right place at the right time.

Innovation type: Process
Organisation type: Innovative SME, Research centre, Supply chain

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Project pioneers

BIM Academy is a consultancy developing digital solutions for construction. It saw an opportunity to use BIM project planning to improve the productivity of site plant and equipment.

The problem

Site plant and equipment, particularly heavy earthmoving equipment such as excavators, bulldozers and trucks represent a major cost element in construction projects. It can range from 10% in a commercial project to up to 50% in major infrastructure projects such as highways, rail lines and energy projects. Use of plant is a major contributor to on and offsite congestion and air pollution (for example, they contribute up to 7% of London's Nitrogen Oxide emissions). Research has shown that utilisation rates of plant can be as low as 30%. Crossover of equipment requirements between project tasks can causing as much as five times the equipment duplication or redundancy. And site congestion from surplus plant can result in heath and safety risks, and unnecessary overspend.


Aquila improves plant and equipment utilisation in real-time. It gives everyone the ability to view plant and equipment in a project by linking live data in a 3D model (part of BIM) with time or schedule related information. This kind of platform is known as 4D BIM and can help plan and synchronise activities on both the works programme and onsite, creating a sequence for what equipment is needed, and by when. This streamlining creates safer, cleaner and more productive sites.

Key Insight

A consortium led by BIM Academy sought to investigate utilisation rates for plant on major projects. Working with HS2, it discovered that not only were plant sitting around much of the time, there was often duplication of equipment and site congestion. Walters Group generally takes on the financial risk of a project's plant hire and so had a strong interest in improving the productivity of equipment and the predictability of earthwork schedules.

First step

The consortium completed a feasibility study where they tested the collection of live data from site plant and equipment and used machine learning to estimate productivity of its use. This led to the idea for an AI-led real-time command and control centre for this kind of equipment.


Infrastructure projects need plant to be available in the right place at the right time. This is typically done by having equipment on site throughout the whole project. This adds cost, site congestion and risk for the equipment supplier. Proactive management of plant would benefit everyone involved.

Digital Innovation

Aquila collects live data on plant use and connecting it with project scheduling that makes use of BIM to plan movements on site (referred to as 4D BIM) offers the opportunity to optimise delivery and use of plant on site. To develop the 4D BIM platform, BIM Academy’s software development team combined a reactive front-end library using vue.js and Autodesk’s Forge viewer, with a backend built utilising python 3.8 and Django for rapid creation of the backend infrastructure and management system. The database is underpinned with an OpenAPI interface which allows the translation of any data received into useable data for the platform. This enables communication with the site, works programme and machinery, and a few custom API tools for translating the data into BIM or data viewer. The platform development drew on use cases and smartphone-based telematic data requirements provided by Northumbria University who also developed the artificial intelligence component. And the first field test for Aquila came from Walters Group who supplied the project with data from the Preston Western Distributor link road project. Once developed, Aquila's dashboard was then linked to a mobile app by Buildstream enabling Location Capture (the ability to capture and transmit the location of an asset on site)and Acceleration Capture (the ability to capture and transmit the speed at which an asset is moving on site).  


The BIM Academy led on the software development. Northumbria University led on the artificial intelligence component, and provided use cases and smartphone-based telematic data. BuildStream linked the mobile phone app to Aquila's dashboard. Walters Group supplied the project with data on the Preston Western Distributor link road project. The consortium worked with major infrastructure projects such as HS2 and major contractors such as Laing O'Rourke and Costain.

  • BIM Academy
  • BuildStream
  • Costain
  • Laing O'Rourke
  • University of Northumbria
  • Walter Plant Hire

Lead support

Innovate UK supported the feasibility study that established the case for this project.

Long Term Vision

Aquila creates safer, cleaner and more productive sites for project teams by synchronising plant and equipment utilisation in real-time. And the cost and time savings by hiring the right plant at the right time can bring projects in on time and on budget, especially large-scale, complex programmes.

Human Stories

Aquila means everyone in a projects has the ability to view the use and movement of plant and equipment. The app gives project managers instant access to real-time data, and the ability to capture location and speed data of plant onsite. This makes sites more productive for workers, so people are able to concentrate on the right tasks with the right kit, and safer as it avoids large machinery standing redundant on site.

Powerful Processes

Aquila collects blends real-time site data and project scheduling data with 3D BIM models and artificial intelligence to create a 4D BIM platform that allows site teams to optimise delivery and use of plant on site. Aquila's dashboard links to a mobile app that allows teams onsite to capture and transmit the location of an asset (Location Capture) and the speed at which an asset is moving on site (Acceleration Capture).

Fascinating Facts

Site plant and equipment represent a major cost element in construction projects ranging from 10% in a commercial project up to 50% in major infrastructure projects. Heavy Equipment is idle 40-50% of the time, wasting £100bn globally. 5 million pieces of heavy equipment are used in construction globally. In September 2021, this project won the RISE Award for Digital Innovation at the International #SEEDS Conference organised by Leeds Sustainability Institute at Leeds Beckett University.