Dealing with dynamic & complex logistics at T5

Posted: 28 March 2008 | Shaun Cowlam, Logistics Director, BAA Heathrow | No comments yet

Restricted to the north and south by two of the world’s most heavily utilised runways, to the east by existing terminals and to the west by Europe’s busiest motorway interchange, space is at a premium at Heathrow’s new Terminal 5 site. There’s little room and a large logistical challenge: how to complete one of Europe’s largest and most complex infrastructure projects at one of the world’s busiest airports.

Restricted to the north and south by two of the world’s most heavily utilised runways, to the east by existing terminals and to the west by Europe’s busiest motorway interchange, space is at a premium at Heathrow’s new Terminal 5 site. There’s little room and a large logistical challenge: how to complete one of Europe’s largest and most complex infrastructure projects at one of the world’s busiest airports.

BAA was given permission to construct the £4.3 billion Terminal 5 project in November 2001 following the longest public inquiry in British planning history. The inquiry laid down over 700 conditions including limits on the time and frequency of deliveries to site, the mandatory use of rail for bulk deliveries, and limits on noise, parking and transport. The T5 project also meets strict environmental targets around noise, dust and the recycling of waste.

In addition to the public inquiry, the challenging location of the T5 site has been a major factor governing the terminal’s construction. T5 is situated between Heathrow’s two runways with Terminals 1, 2 and 3 lying to the east and the M25, Europe’s busiest motorway, to the west. The airport’s radar system also imposed height limits restricting the size of cranes and other tall structures. Finally, although equivalent in size to London’s Hyde Park, the 260ha site has a limited amount of storage space for materials and equipment.

Given the complex nature of these constraints, an effective logistics programme has been vital to the success of the project. The logistics strategy for Terminal 5 includes materials logistics, planning, people logistics, waste management and site support.

Material Logistics

For Terminal 5 to be successfully completed it was recognised that an entirely new approach was needed for construction logistics. Central to this was the development of a logistics strategy that drew heavily on learning and techniques from the manufacturing industry. The approach that was adopted is analogous to “just in time delivery” that is used in major manufacturing industries.

The main aim of the material delivery strategy is to support on site assembly activities without causing site congestion, control the volume of traffic through the single site entry plaza and maintain clear local roads.

There are however differences between construction logistics and those required to support manufacturing. Manufacturing is a set of operational processes which lends itself to almost stopwatch precision for the delivery of materials. Construction is a series of prototyping activities with relatively short repetition runs. There is therefore a need within the construction industry for robust and flexible material delivery systems that support on-site assembly yet recognise that schedule and plans do change. The major issue is to be able to cope with the changing nature of different types of delivery materials through the project lifecycle. There is a transition from bulk materials with few suppliers on a relatively open access site at the start of the project through to highly engineered materials onto a highly congested site with many suppliers.

As part of the spectrum of materials, the T5 delivery process needed to deal with bulk deliveries of time sensitive materials such as concrete, though to ‘Touch and Go’ deliveries from outside suppliers, trailer park & drop and consolidated loads from an adjacent warehouse facility.
The constraints associated with deliveries changed with time and the commencement of the M&E and Fit-Out works dramatically increased the dynamic complexity of material deliveries. The Fit- Out activities for T5 comprised of two distinct types of materials

  • Commodity items such as plasterboard, insulation, studding etc with low lead times.
  • Engineered to order products with long lead times such as doors, glass balustrades, ceilings, floor tiles etc.

The delivery of fit-out materials became increasingly more intricate and delicate as the access to building became more complex and the number of work faces increased. The constraints associated with the vertical and horizontal transportation of materials within the building and issues relating to localised storage meant that whole artic loads of materials cannot be accommodated and some buffer storage adjacent to the site is required where whole loads can be stored and then part consignments delivered to site.

Manufacturing and assembly schedules constantly changed to serve the needs of the project milestone dates and were updated, often at short notice. The storage and delivery of materials needed to be considered and optimised as part of a whole construction system of manufacturing and installation and not just in isolation. The use of minimum buffer storage at Colnbrook Logistics Centre adjacent to the site was the most efficient way to balance the system where uncertainty and variation existed.

It is recognised that there will normally be a balance between manufacturing ‘push’ of materials from manufacturing and the on site assembly “pull”. To balance these system forces a buffer of stock is used. This buffer acts as a shield from upstream variation in the manufacturing process and to enable flexibility in the downstream assembly process. BAA required this buffer to be as small as practicable with ideally the manufacturing process cycle times at the same rhythm as the install frequency times and therefore eliminating the decoupling buffer.

Regular meetings were held with the principal T5 suppliers to develop baseline and forecast delivery profiles. At peak, the T5 project received 250 deliveries per hour. During the main construction phase over 3000 tons of aggregate, 650 tonnes of Portland cement and 300 tons of rebar were delivered to site each week.

BAA developed a web application called AirBuild to enable on site teams and suppliers to book materials onto the main projects. This ensured the flow of materials were within the capacities of the site to handle and offload them. This application was so successful it will be used on the next generation of Heathrow projects.

Logistics planning

This involves working with project teams and suppliers to ensure that there are sufficient resources in the right place and at the right time to meet the demand. Through this planning, BAA has been able to develop an intelligent customer capability that aims to improve supplier management and the formation of integrated planning teams.

Given that the overall logistic cost of T5 will exceed £300 million over the 5 year build phase, a complete financial and commercial team has been required to manage the budget and drive efficiency.

People logistics

The importance of people logistic support is best seen within the context of a peak, on-site population of 8,000 individuals daily. As a result, a high standard of welfare facilities is required along with the associated management of those facilities. This includes the provision of worker accommodation; car parking with a cap of 3,500 spaces; a 56-vehicle bus company; 3,000 office spaces in nine temporary offices; ten canteens providing 1800 seats and 200,000 meals per month and welfare compounds that provide lockers and showers.

Waste logistics

Each month approximately 1500 tonnes of waste was collected, segregated and compressed before removal. Over 85 per cent of all waste was recycled.

Site support facilities

The ever-changing nature of the Terminal 5 site means that temporary facilities such as road networks and office compounds are routinely moved to make room for permanent infrastructure. In addition, the logistics team operates up to 3 concrete batchers and, during the early civils phase, ran a dedicated rebar (the cutting and bending of steel reinforcement for concrete) factory to support the site.

This factory, based near to the site at Colnbrook, used state-of-the-art technology to prefabricate and pre-assemble reinforcement cages ready for their use on site; the advantage being that it was much safer and more efficient to manufacture rebar in this controlled environment, which saw a peak production of 500 tonnes of rebar per day.

At the end of 2005 as major concrete construction was coming to an end, the rebar factory was stripped out of machinery and the 13,000m2 factory become a logistics warehouse to support the fit–out suppliers on the project. Given the space constraints imposed by T5’s location it was decided at an early stage to create external logistic centres to support the construction programme. At the Heathrow South Logistics Centre, materials are stored and managed; the centre also provides a remote maintenance base for the suppliers. At Colnbrook there is rail head and materials management centre. It also acts as a marshalling area before deliveries are made to site. Logistic consolidation is also carried out.

The future

With T5 now finished significant construction logistic lessons have been learnt that will certainly provide benefit for the airport over the coming years.

The benefits of an integrated approach to construction logistics have been demonstrated at T5 where logistics costs were reduced from the industry norm of up to 12% to less than 7% of the total construction spend.

Looking towards the future, BAA been granted outline planning approval for Heathrow East – a project that will see the replacement of Terminal 2 with a modern terminal similar in quality to T5. BAA will then have one of Europe’s largest construction sites located in the middle of the world’s busiest international airport. BAA has an excellent record of carrying out major construction projects without disrupting passenger or aircraft movements. From next year the scale of construction in the central terminal area dictates the requirement for a new approach if BAA is maintain airport operations. Furthermore, an integrated approach at this scale can offer significant cost savings, as shown on T5.

In order to deliver this integrated approach, a centralised Construction Logistics Team has been formed. This team is called ConLog and will provide advice and support to Project Leaders in the definition, procurement and delivery of logistics services to their projects. Furthermore ConLog will provide some centralised logistic services to projects located in the Central Terminal Area. These Logistic services will also be integrated with the HAL Operational logistic systems in order to protect airport operations and support a single logistic strategy for Heathrow.

About the author

Shaun Cowlam joined BAA from the British Army, where he was Head of Logistics in Headquarters Land Command in Salisbury.

Before that, Shaun was based in the Middle East and was responsible for all aspects of logistics support to the British forces during the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. For this work he was awarded the CBE.

At T5, he is responsible for all aspects of current logistics delivery, as well as planning packaged logistics solutions for future BAA projects.

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