Sep 22, 2017

Q&A with Geotechnical Observations’ Andrew Ridley

Tyler Morency
2 years ago

Andrew Ridley is the managing director of Geotechnical Observations, the exclusive distributor for Measurand’s ShapeArray products in Great Britain and Ireland.

Q: How would you describe your company, Geotechnical Observations?

A: We're a service provider for geotechnical instrumentation and monitoring. We offer the full service from advising customers on the type of instrumentation that might be used through to procuring instruments—it's not just ShapeArray, we do a whole load of other instruments—through to installation, data collection, presentation of data, and ultimately, interpretation of the data. So we're a turn-key service company in that respect.

Q: You've been a Measurand distributor since 2010, you use it in your own company's projects, do you remember how you first heard of Measurand and ShapeArray, what was that like?

A: I first heard of Measurand—I know exactly where I heard of it and that was at a course in Holland, one of John Dunnicliff's courses. And John put up a few slides at the end of one of his—he does a general intro to instrumentation and he put up a slide, "This is new!" And it was ShapeArray. It rang a bell with me, mainly because my academic mentor, Professor Peter Vaughan, described something very similar to that a couple of decades earlier. He sort of said, "This is what we need." And it was very similar to ShapeArray. Now, I'm not suggesting in anyway that he invented ShapeArray. He did not. He was a visionary. He could look forward and think this is what we need to be doing.

Q: If we had this tool...

A: Exactly. So when I saw this, I thought, "Wow, that's what Peter described to me however long ago." So I thought I need to find out about that. So that's the point at which I started doing a bit of research and looking into it, discovered that Measurand were the inventor/maker of that. So I jumped on an aero plane and had a meeting with these guys in that office. Spent most of that two-day trip teaching them about soil mechanics and at the end of it, shook hands with Lee [Measurand’s President Lee Danisch—ed.] on it—I'll be your distributor. That's sort of, in a nutshell, how it happened.

Q: Given that urban construction makes up a large part of your business, how does ShapeArray fit into the suite of monitoring solutions you employ?

A: Well, its biggest advantage has always been it's simple. It's easy to install. It gives a good representation of what is happening. It works. It's adaptable so you can use it in vertical orientation, horizontal, and circular orientation. It fits—a one tool fits all way— for measuring displacement. Obviously displacement isn't everything and we do a lot of other measurements. But because of that adaptability, it does tend to get used in a lot of projects that we're in involved in.

And historically, we weren't a displacement monitoring company. We were a pore pressure and slope monitoring company, but it has enabled us to grow into a whole different market.

Q: So times have changed...

A: Definitely. My business has changed. We do a lot of things now that we didn't used to do but that's market driven. Market forces, you can't underestimate them.

Q: Why has the British urban construction market taken to ShapeArray in the way that it has?

A: I think you need to realize that the market was ripe for it. There were a lot of installations out there using IPIs. And they were pretty appalling. The results were pretty damning, so there was a gap there ready to be filled. It just so happens ShapeArray came along and filled that gap. If it hadn't worked, you wouldn't be where you are. But it worked and it was the only thing that worked in some respects. You add on to that the simplicity of how to use it, it was just the right time.

There's a lot of places where there is a lot of urban construction going on. And a lot of geohazard-type problems—slope stability issues. But they tend to be, in many cases, places where their economies aren't as big. Certainly, in areas where they have issues of slope stability. They can't afford it. That's one thing you shouldn't underestimate, it's quite an expensive tool to use compared to other products sometimes. Going along with a manual reading with a probe inclinometer is cheaper than putting a ShapeArray in. And we do a lot of that—where you only want to take one reading a month. Why would you put a ShapeArray in if you only want to take one reading a month? It's going to be quite expensive. You've got to monitor once-a-month for a lot of years before you get the return on the investment. That's an important factor. Even in places like Hong Kong and Singapore, where there is a fair amount of urban construction going on, yet they haven't embraced ShapeArray as much as the UK did.

Q: What are some of the projects you are most proud of, personally or professionally, projects that stand out?

A: I guess historically, the two big projects for us have been Heathrow Airport, which was Terminal 2B, which didn't have a huge presence for ShapeArray, but it was a big project for us. And then, most recently would be Northern Line Extension (NLE). Northern Line was an opportunity for us to demonstrate to the industry that we more than just ShapeArray, for example. We've done so many different things on that project and people, perhaps, can now see that we do more than just one thing. I'm hopeful that will move forward and now people will come to us and realize that we're an all-around company. Those two projects are the standout projects in the last 10 years. The little projects are just as important.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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