Corps’ Dredge Quality Management Program Set To Move Inland

A key Corps of Engineers program has been quietly installing sensors on dredges—both its own and those used by its contractors—and gathering millions of data points to better monitor and improve dredge performance since 2005. While it is currently used in the coastal Corps districts, it is set to move inland, according to a Corps program manager.

Headquartered in Mobile, Ala., the program, called Dredge Quality Management (DQM), is “an automated dredge contract monitoring system comprised of both hardware and software developed by” the Corps, according to the program’s website (https://dqm.usace.army.mil/). It’s supposed to be a “low-cost, repeatable and impartial “system.

Its director and builder, Vern Gwin, began by installing sensors and monitors on dredges owned and operated by the Corps. As the program grew, the Corps developed hardware, software and standards for its contractors to follow, with their input and cooperation. The program was “rebranded” with the Dredge Quality Management name in 2009.

Specifications for what types of sensors to install, how many to install, where to install them, how many quality checks to perform, and how to format their information are built into Corps dredging contracts. The contractors provide the sensors and computer equipment.

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An obvious benefit of the program and one of the reasons for its development is the monitoring of the performance of dredging contractors. But the program has many other benefits for both the Corps and contractors. According to its website, it:

• standardizes data collection and reporting in a common format;

• “creates a base for dispute resolution and avoidance”;

• provides impartial evidence for possible litigation; and

• gathers information for environmental monitoring complaints and biological concerns (such as damage to marine species).

The DQM program’s staff—which includes engineers, scientists, software and hardware developers and technical support specialists—constantly consult with the dredging industry on new ways to monitor dredge performance, what types of sensors to use to capture data, and how best to integrate, display and use that data. 

Its board of directors includes high-level Corps personnel from operations, regulatory compliance and environmental divisions, as well as industry representatives. The DQM website displays the real-time location of all working dredges, as well as their certification status and other information.

According to DQM program manager Michael Sessions, the program is a win-win for everyone. Any industry user can request that special data-analysis studies be done using the DQM data, “which is really their data,” he said. The analyses are free but must be specifically requested.

Moving To Pipeline Dredges

At first, the DQM sensors were installed on hopper and scow dredges.

Corps headquarters directed the National DQM Center on April 22, 2014, to initiate a phased-in monitoring of pipeline dredges across the nation. This began with Corps-owned and operated pipeline dredges in 2015, and private dredge contracts in 2018.

At the Western Dredging Association (WEDA) Midwest regional meeting in April, Gwin updated attendees on that implementation (International Dredging Review, April 2019). A new DQM viewer, V3.0, which shows ongoing dredging monitoring for hopper and pipeline dredges, was released. The original viewer showed only hopper dredges. When pipeline monitoring went active, the Corps developed another viewer for that. The newest viewer combines and enhances the two.

The Corps is doing more and more pipeline monitoring and working with new customers to fine-tune that process. The DQM program added two new employees to handle that workload.

More districts have also asked for specialized pipeline data, and DQM says it wants to be able to handle more analysis requests. “If you think of some special analysis that you’d like on the data, we can share with you what some of those things have been in the past and maybe those can help you analyze your dredging projects,” Gwin told attendees.

The entire system’s data was formerly stored on Corps servers, but as it has grown that has become difficult to manage. The program is moving to a cloud-based system. As of early March, the transition was about half-way complete, Gwin said. The transition should improve the system’s performance.

The Corps is doing a hopper dredge utilization study to show whether dredges are being used efficiently, or if the Corps should look at investing in a new hopper dredge to meet future needs. Gwin said the DQM data has been very helpful in those evaluations.