Innovating in underground utility management

Hurkmans is a family-run business from Someren, in the Netherlands. It constructs and maintains underground infrastructure, mainly for utilities, laying 30km of new pipes every year in the southern part of the Netherlands. This case study focuses on how hybrid solutions help Hurkmans work more efficiently.

Underground surveying equipment
Underground surveying equipment

From contracting business to contractor

Marinus Hurkmans started a contracting business in the late 1950s with four sons and a son-in-law, cleaning locks and levelling land.

Hurkmans is now known primarily as contractor in the construction and maintenance of underground infrastructure. It has arpound 250 permanent employees work on projects for water, TV and internet providers, such as Endinet, Brabant Water, Enexis, WML and Ziggo.

Growing with the customer

General director Hans van de Ven is the son of one of the founders of Hurkmans. He said: "A few years after its establishment, Hurkmans came into contact with the former municipal company, Eindhoven, nowadays called Endinet. We did the excavation work and closed off the trenches in which cables and pipes were placed. First manually, then later on with excavators. Then the question arose: 'Since you are always on location anyway, could you also mount the tubes while you are at it?'. We grew with our customers and we continue to do so."

Data, design and invoice

Hurkmans has a fully automatic work process. This starts with the applications for domestic connections, which almost come in directly digitally at the contractor's office. Smallworld, the GIS system of Brabant Water and Enexis, shows immediately whether there is a main connection. Designers create the digital design for the connection in Smallworld, then an appointment is made with the customer and the materials are purchased. A digital sketch is created of the new connection that, accompanied by data of the handover required by the customer, will then be returned to the office for check-up. This and the invoice then goes to the customer.

Hans said: "About 10 years ago, the data was printed and the superintendent examined whether it was correct or not and revised the digital data manually, in his own system. Nowadays, things are a lot more efficient and errors have been reduced to a minimum."

Reduce paperwork with the right tools

Fully automatic work processes are only possible with the right tools. For this reason, 25 fitters have a computer tablet and this should soon increase to 50-60. In the context of the Exchange of Information on Underground Networks Act (WION), data will be immediately available digitally via tablets, complete with a topographical map (GBKN) as substrate in which the pipes and connections can be clearly seen on top as a layer.

The fitter sees his position on the map and can, if necessary, zoom in further on the location to be processed. This not only works quickly, but also reduces the amount of paperwork, including associated Co2 emissions.

Always and anywhere available in the field

Besides tablets, the Topcon's two hybrid solutions make a substantial contribution to a more efficient workflow.

Surveyor Rick de Groot has been working daily with this system, which combines a GNSS rover with a robotic total station.

He said: "In the construction of new cables especially, we can lay quite quickly a substantial number of metres or yards. In case the satellite signal is lost, which happened frequently with the previous system, it becomes quite frustrating. Previously, we had to walk back to the car to grab a total station, or wait until the GPS connection was re-established. It was time consuming and caused unnecessary irritations. Now, it is only a matter of pressing one button to switch directly over to a total station measurement, without any delay. We now almost have converage - and everywhere - and can continue our work without interruptions."

Working in the cloud

The hybrid solution is equipped with MAGNET Field making working in the cloud possible.

De Groot said: "Before we would go to the office after the last job, either at the end of the day or the next morning, to transfer the data. I can now place the survey data immediately in the cloud and my colleagues in the office can immediately make use of it."

The WION is another advantage of working in the cloud.

De Groot said: "In the context of the WION, we - as groundwork contractors - are obliged to provide partial delivery of the trajectory that is created. Hurkmans has two employees who draw full-time in the GIS system of Enexis. We measure outside, lay out the measurement in the cloud, they download it immediately, draw it directly into the system and see if it works in WION. This is seamless thanks to MAGNET Enterprise. Overall, I estimate that we can work about 40% faster thanks to the possibilities provided by the hybrid and cloud solution of Topcon."

Quality is paramount

Increasing outsourcing by the customer and framework contract provide Hurkmans the right incentive.

"Hurkmans has the ambition to be - and remain - the best in class in the region," said Hans. "Maintaining a connection with our customers is crucial, because if we lose it, it will be almost impossible to reconnect. Therefore, we will have to ensure safety and reliability, especially in times of increased outsourcing and pressure on utilities by the Dutch government. Improving quality means new work, it is as simple as that. And the quality is in the preservation of knowledge and experience, and investment."

Interested in seeing your project featured?

Do you or your company have a project you'd like to share with civil engineers from across the globe?

Our Knowledge Marketing team sources content from across the world of civil engineering, as well of as offering opportunities for sponsorship.

Training opportunities from ICE

ICE provides world class training for civil engineers looking to develop their skill set.