Geotechnical Project Management: insights from Kevin Eipe

Keving Eipe

With each new project, our geotechnical engineers face new challenges which draw upon their technical capability. Combining his expertise of geotechnical conditions, together with astute project management, Kevin Eipe is fast developing his career and reputation for geotechnical foundation engineering for our mineral and resources clients in Western Australia.

It’s in these remote and harsh environments that Kevin is working alongside our clients to solve design challenges on key mining projects. Here Kevin shares his insights on how collaboration is key to delivering solutions across these challenging projects.

Combined expertise to every project

There are no ifs or buts about it – Western Australia is a difficult place to build, maintain and operate resource projects. On any project, consultants are faced with remote locations, complex environmental settings, and materials challenges. In remote locations, there are always challenges for project management and the consultants engaged on a project.

As a Project Geotechnical Engineer at Tetra Tech Coffey based in our Perth office, I work with a diverse range of clients and projects. It’s an interesting role because the scale, scope and projects change all the time. Majority of my work involves performing third-party design review, so reviewing other people’s designs, mine dam safety reviews, office-based analyses, project management or site Geotechnical engineering.

Due to the broad spectrum of my role, we are often required to assist clients with their audits and assessments. Ensuring that we’re compliant with regulations is paramount and we also deliver audits for government departmental regulatory approvals or definitive feasibility studies. At each step we work together with clients to help them prepare to submit the demos and get to the next stage of regulatory approvals.

In my opinion, that’s why clients choose to work with a consulting specialist like Tetra Tech. We know the environment, and within our team we have such a diversity of technical capability, and we will always do everything in our capability to make it happen.

Understanding the project parameters from the outset

Western Australia has become a key player for rare and emerging minerals. Over the past year and a half I have been working on a client’s project for a new, emerging minerals project, located about six hours east of Perth. The project was focused on groundworks and foundation engineering for a new concentrator plant for a process plant construction site.

When it comes to foundations, there is always the pressure to get it right, as it can make or break a project. The project itself right from the outset was very constrained. There was a perceived lack of quality materials on site, but at the same time, the client didn’t really want to go down the path of bringing in external materials for the foundation works.

Usually there’s a nearby source or a quarry we can use, but for this project we did not have this option, so right from day one we knew that this was going to be an ‘interesting’ project.

A previous investigation had been done by another consultant and their report said basically ‘there’s no suitable materials on site’ and it is not achievable. This is when as a geotechnical engineer you really must get to work, dig the dirt and delineate where the high-quality material is.

It was my job to go back over the initial reports and re-look at the site and find a solution. It’s incredibly satisfying to do the geotechnical investigation and find a suitable workaround.

The value ad consultants bring to a project

The solutions we were able to come up with delivered massive cost savings to the project, and that didn’t require any extension of time which indirectly converts to cost savings (‘time is money’). It was much more sustainable as well when you think of all the diesel, we saved by not importing material from off site.

“The key lesson from this project for a client is, always seek a second opinion. The benefit that Tetra Tech was able to bring to the client on this project was a combined team of expertise.” – Kevin Eipe

I work alongside a team of technical specialists and people that I could rely on back in Perth. We were able to take the preliminary research that was performed through a review, expand on the ground investigations, and through collaboration and consulting, lean on an entire team of specialists to find a solution.

We ended up with a positive result where the client was able to move forward to the next stage of construction, to achieve a successfully built Concentrator pad.

Collaboration is key – build working relationships right from the beginning

I could not have achieved this outcome alone. It always takes a team! I was fortunate to work with a very approachable client, their Lead Civil Engineer, and some fantastic support from my Tetra Tech colleagues from the Perth Office, including Senior Geotechnical and Pavement engineers.

Our clients’ contractors were great to work with. We had a lot of meetings and discussions and when everyone can come together, and just work through the process to find a solution – you can really achieve great outcomes.

I worked closely with the Contractor’s on-site Senior Project Manager and Senior Materials Technician, as we had to do a lot of laboratory test work on site, which would have had to be done anyway. The Client and I also had a lot of mapping work to complete but there was no actual extension to the critical path of the project, so everything just worked. At the end of the day, good outcomes really require diverse expertise and good collaboration.

Some of the technical aspects of the project involved reviewing the Contractor’s Earthworks Specification, and proposing an alternative Earthworks Specification that would still provide the desired end result but not be as constrained by the available Materials.

We also looked at the Client’s Aerodrome (airstrip) design and construction (done by another Consultant), and provided valuable advice for the Materials utilisation, Earthworks Specification review and Bitumen spray seal performance.

Soil testing was focused on-site to delineate high quality Materials from lower quality, and I was constantly (near daily) interpreting new test results to provide ad hoc advice on which Materials to use, where and how. There were a lot of site visits to conduct, which involved advising the Client on how deep to dig, what Material to use, and which Borrow Pit to source it from, depending on the Concentrator Infrastructure that was going to be built in that specific area.  Basically, no critical Earthworks was done on-site without my/our Geotechnical Engineering input.

It was crucial to be extremely practical with all of the Project Constraints, and to really utilise all available resources on-site to the maximum extent practicable.

It just shows that you do have to ‘dig a bit deeper’ as an engineer to get to the end result, and really work together as a team.

Engineering – the job that just keeps on giving

I am excited that I have a career in engineering consulting. Since starting with Tetra Tech nearly three years ago, my need for a challenge has certainly been met. I’ve hit the ground running ever since I started working at Tetra Tech, and the diversity of work continues to build my skills and really test my knowledge and expertise. There’s a lot of great people here, with diverse technical skills and backgrounds, and I’m just enjoying working with them and learning from them.

For young graduates or those looking to build their careers, there’s so much potential for them in engineering and working at a firm like Tetra Tech Coffey. You won’t be disappointed if you look for a challenge.

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