Excavation in construction: A vital step for any building

Since ancient times, excavation in construction has played a key role. The Romans, famous for their expertise in building stone bridges, are a perfect example of this tradition. One of their most remarkable achievements is the Pons Aemilius Bridge in Rome, a marvel of architecture dating from 179 BC that spans the Tiber River and stands as a timeless testament to their craftsmanship. 

To facilitate the excavation of this monumental bridge, the Romans ingeniously used cofferdams, wooden barriers built around the working area in the river to keep the water out. Once the area was dry, workers could excavate using rudimentary tools such as shovels and hammers. 

Fast forward to today and the landscape of excavation construction has undergone a significant transformation! However, there are many new technologies that are improving the safety and inefficiency inherent within modern excavation processes. Keep reading to learn more about these latest trends in excavation. 

What is excavation in construction? 

Excavation is more than simply digging a hole. It is an essential part of the construction process. As the first step in the construction of any structure (e.g., excavation, construction, and demolition), excavation is literally the foundation behind a building’s stability & durability.  

In a nutshell, it is the process of removing materials from the ground using various techniques to prepare the foundation for a built asset. 

The excavation and demolition market has been steadily growing in recent years, and it is expected to reach US$555.33 billion by 2028 from US$480.78 billion in 2023. This represents a significant opportunity for early-stage companies working in this space. The expected growth will be driven by sustainable practices when dismantling an asset, smart city initiatives, and infrastructure renewal. Major trends in the industry include advancements and new technologies in excavation equipment field, adoption of digital twin technologies, and the incorporation of take-back schemes for recovering recycled materials and products. 

a bulldozer on a construction site at dusk doing excavation work

Excavation types

If you’re wondering which type of excavation is best suited to the needs of your project, here are some examples to get you thinking. 

Rock excavation

This technique is used to remove rocky areas that obstruct the construction process. It isn’t just limited to stone, but can also involve any solid, compact, or cemented material. It is highly challenging compared to other methods because it requires special equipment and techniques like drilling or blasting (controlled explosions to break up rock) to remove these hard materials. 

The well-known Eurotunnel is a prime example of rock excavation. This underwater railway tunnel connects the United Kingdom with France. During its construction, underwater rock formations posed a significant challenge due to the geological conditions, and the tunnel’s length of 50.5 kilometers. For this remarkable engineering feat, massive drilling machines were used. 

Topsoil excavation

Topsoil is the topmost part of the earth’s surface, primarily composed of plant debris and decomposing organic matter, and is commonly found in areas such as forests and agricultural fields. It is the most popular form of excavation and involves scraping the surface but not digging deep holes. 

Topsoil contains materials and a higher moisture level that isn’t suitable for building any structure or laying foundations. Therefore, it must be removed before any construction can proceed. The extracted topsoil will be relocated to another area for further landscaping or construction purposes. Innovative mechanical tools, such as tracked excavators, have made the process easier for professionals. These excavators have a cabin and an extended arm with a digging bucket. 

An example of a circular business model in the space of demolished and excavated components is Soil Connect. The US-based startup has been part of our investment portfolio since 2020 and has developed a marketplace that connects those with soil and aggregates to those in need, complemented by other additional functionalities for construction dirt professionals. This platform minimizes waste by reducing the disposal of excess materials in landfills and helps to reduce carbon emissions by enabling users to transact over shorter distances. 

Muck excavation

Muck is the combination of soil and water, due to the presence of water. The term “muck,” like topsoil, refers to the material being extracted, not the extraction process itself. 

Like quicksand, working with muck can be challenging due to the instability of the ground. Construction sites can become a “disaster zone” for heavy equipment with muddy material sticking to the wheels and underneath the machinery. 

It’s vital to remove this material before building a structure because if left in place, it can cause the construction to fail. After its removal, the excavated muck can be disposed of or repurposed for landscaping or as filling material for other construction projects. For instance, it can be used to fill trenches or depressed areas on the construction site to elevate the ground level. 

Underground excavation

This type of excavation is carried out exclusively under the surface layers of the earth. Its purpose is to create spaces such as channels, tunnels, subways, pipelines, caves, or bunkers. 

The most common techniques used to create these structures include the use of tunnel boring machines, also known as “moles”, and controlled explosions. 

Fun fact: The world’s largest underground city is in Montreal, Canada. Known as the Montreal Underground City, it spans over 32 kilometers (20 miles) of tunnels beneath the city’s streets. This impressive engineering feat connects shopping centers, hotels, offices, and universities. 

Underwater excavation

It is conducted in submerged or partially submerged areas to facilitate construction projects such as offshore oil platforms or marine ports. Techniques utilized for this form of excavation include hydro-excavation (suctioning water to dig into the earth) or remotely operated vehicles (ROVs). These advanced vehicles enable exploration of the ocean without the need for a physical presence in the water. 

The excavation process

Behind every successful project is a carefully crafted plan! Let’s look at the steps in the excavation process: 

  1. Planning & Site Assessment: This crucial step is usually carried out by a topographical or engineering firm. It involves the creation of a comprehensive plan that considers factors such as current terrain conditions and underground structures.  

At this stage, it’s important to consider timing. The duration of an excavation can vary depending on factors such as the size and complexity of the project, as well as the availability of machinery and personnel. For example, excavation and foundation work for an average house typically takes 2 to 3 weeks. 

  1. Clearing: Once the project plan has been established, the first task is to clear the land. This involves removing unwanted obstacles on the surface, often employing demolition techniques. 
  1. Excavation: It’s time for the big dig! Excavators work to create a stable foundation by removing rocks, organic matter, and other previously identified materials. 
  1. Utilities & Drainage: After excavation, utilities such as water, sewage, and electrical connections are installed according to the plan. Drainage infrastructure, such as gutters and downspouts, are also installed to effectively manage rainwater run-off. 
A close-up of a pile of reddish, rocky earth. In the background, out of focus, you can see a bulldozer doing excavation work for a construction site

Cemex Ventures improves excavation in construction through innovation 

At Cemex Ventures, we are always looking for visionary solutions that enhance excavation in construction through disruptive construction technologies. Exodigo & RodRadar are 2 outstanding examples: 


The Tel-Aviv & San Jose-based startup was one of the winners of the Construction Startup Competition 2022. Exodigo has revolutionized construction excavation through artificial intelligence and 3D imaging. Its solution allows workers to capture images of underground conditions without the need for excavation. 


Named a Top 50 Contech Startup of 2024 and one of the winners of the Construction Startup Competition 2023, the Israeli startup has made a significant impact on the sector. Its technology automatically detects underground utility infrastructure in real-time and location without the need for expert analysis. 

If your startup has a groundbreaking solution that will revolutionize the excavation process in construction, apply now to Construction Startup Competition 2024 – ONLY 5 DAYS LEFT

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