World first robot protects trench workers

The idea was hatched after project pipe installation contractor EcoCivil Managing Director Ivan Cummins, Plant Manager Jim Macdonald and Construction Superintendent Tom Dermody pondered ways to improve their construction methods particularly on such a time-critical project.

With open cut trenching top of mind, the specialist trio focused on workplace health and safety regulations that require a trench more than 1.5 metres in depth to be boxed out (stepped out) because, after the trench gets to a certain depth, there is a possibility of cave in on top of the construction worker. Visualising, designing and building an innovative, remote controlled “˜robot’ solved that problem.

Presented with the concept, it was up to Jim to design and build a new and effective device in the on-site workshop. It took him just four weeks assisted by a crew of boiler makers to produce a world first.

Standing 3 metres tall, 3.4 metres wide and 4.5 metres long, the ingenious mechanism prevents the trench having to be boxed out – a crew member can work in the trench to receive and join pipe and be protected by the box robot.

The robot itself straddles the trench and can be operated manually by a person standing on it or by remote control. It holds a “˜box’ in the middle which sits inside the trench and protects the crew member working inside from the trench, rocks or machinery.

Not only is the robot provide a much safer method of working in the 3 metre deep trenches needed for laying up to 1.5 metre diameter by up to 14 metre long pipes, it also cuts down on excavation of soil removed by necessity from the trench. Less soil is removed using the SafetyBox Robot making rehabilitation of the surface more environmentally beneficial than other methods.

Co-inventor Ivan said the new machine was cutting-edge in terms of workplace health and safety in the pipeline industry.

He said the machine, being used on 45 km of trenching from Coominya to Bundamba, eliminated the need for four excavators each with an operator and three labourers, and was cost, time and safety effective.

“Everyone is so impressed by the SafetyBox Robot that Jim is now building a larger version for the dual section of the purified recycled water pipeline.

“It’s been great for us, great for the Western Pipeline Alliance and great for the safety of our workforce,” he said.

And yes…the patent is pending.

The Western Corridor Recycled Water Project involves significant challenges in terms of technology and the management and regulation of a recycled water scheme. By the end of 2008, the project will deliver up to 232 megalitres of purified recycled water daily to power stations, industry and agriculture as well as to the Wivenhoe Dam system to supplement south east Queensland drinking supplies. Pivotal to the project is construction of a 200 km network of underground pipelines and three new advanced water treatment plants.

The Western Pipeline Alliance, comprising McConnell Dowell, Abigroup and GHD and the Queensland Coordinator General, is delivering its component of the WCRW Project.

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