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EEJ: Inside an Engineering Enterprise

The science of logistics

Logistics is the unsung hero of the construction cycle, yet its role in successful project delivery is vital. As the industry is being challenged to increase levels of offsite manufacture, logistics becomes critical. Advances in the approach are helping to reduce programme times and enhance productivity.

Logistics has become crucial to Laing O’Rourke. A world-class, end-to-end logistics solution is the glue that binds offsite manufacture and onsite delivery. Without it, the various strands of the Group’s value proposition could not come together.

Logistics starts from the very outset of a project and runs right the way through its lifecycle. The team needs to understand how a project will be put together, what components will go into the building, which elements will be manufactured in-house – precast, mechanical, electrical and public health, smartwalls, bathroom pods – and which other offsite elements will be procured externally, such as lifts or cladding. A lot of thought has to go into how components are transported – are there any wide-loads which require escorting, will they fit under motorway bridges or cope with weight restrictions?

Before the first truck leaves the factory, highly skilled logistics and design personnel must break the project into thousands of constituent parts, working with assembly teams to understand the sequence in which these will come together, casting this over the programme duration. That consumption curve will then be fed into the digital engineering model so that components can be visualised at each stage of their journey. This allows teams to visualise loading and transportation arrangements, cranage strategies and assembly techniques – and ensure they are appropriate. By understanding the rate of procurement and manufacture, the project team is able to plan storage and delivery requirements accordingly.

Sweep Path Analysis

Spatial restrictions are a persistent challenge on urban construction projects. In the City of London, for example, curfew restrictions, congestion, limited stopping and unloading areas add to the complexity, meaning it is often necessary to marshal loads, threading vehicles down very narrow streets. One innovative solution adopted by Laing O’Rourke is Sweep Path Analysis (SPA), which is used to plan to exacting detail all vehicle movements to and from project sites.

The system identifies issues such as access via narrow roads, before building solutions into a project’s digital model.

Ron Donald is using the technology at the Clarges Estate project in London’s Mayfair, where he is logistics manager. ‘Here we have to bring articulated vehicles along very tight roads with parked cars,’ he says. ‘With our Design for Manufacture and Assembly [DfMA] approach, it’s critical that we get the logistics right up front. If you miscalculate the available space versus the turning circle of a vehicle it can mean a hold-up that can have a knock-on effect down the line. SPA gives us the ability to plan our movements so we stay on track.’

World-class transport fleet

In 2015, Laing O’Rourke announced it had formed a partnership with WS Transport, part of the Stobart Group. The joint venture, known as Explore Transport, will create a bespoke construction-related transport business, replicating the models and methods used within the fast-moving retail delivery and freight sector – particularly in terms of vehicle tracking, network planning management and just-in-time delivery. Explore Transport will be industry-leading in terms of safety with class-leading equipment and training. Key appointments, recruiting from related sectors will bring the right balance of experience to the team.

As Laing O’Rourke’s plans to expand its manufacturing facility at Explore Industrial Park come to completion, in the future there will be a truck leaving the site every six minutes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. By the time the Laing O’Rourke’s advanced manufacturing facility is fully operational, Explore Transport will be amongst the top transport businesses in the UK by volume.

The business will work with procurement teams to transition from a delivered model to an ex-works model. Instead of paying for layers and layers of transport, the Group will collect everything it buys, dispatch it to distribution centres and then parcel it up for transfer to its sites. Self-delivery is all about control – it will allow Laing O’Rourke to get material to the right place, at the right time, in the most efficient manner possible.

Ideally, the bulk of major movements will be carried out at night when there is less congestion. Items will be trucked through the night to consolidation areas, with the business moving to adopt greener ‘last mile’ deliveries to site, where the intention will be to use gas or electric vehicles and employ local drivers who know the city and the route.

In the future we will be developing the ability for the project sites to see their deliveries in real time, with the estimated arrival time of a load being constantly updated using vehicle-tracking technology.

CLOCS go forward

Laing O’Rourke is a leading partner in CLOCS (Construction Logistics and Cyclist Safety) – a UK-wide initiative to improve road safety for cyclists and other vulnerable road users. The business requires all its vehicles and drivers (and those within the supply chain) to comply with new CLOCS LGV standards and is one of the first carriers to put the standards into operation on a national scale.

Prototype vehicles with enhanced safety features (such as larger windows for improved visibility, CCTV cameras and recording devices, blind spot sensors, additional mirrors and signage) are also being tested and developed by Select and Explore Transport and its vehicle manufacturers as part of the CLOCS initiative.

The business has also provided vehicles for the London Metropolitan Police’s ‘Exchanging Places’ programme, which puts cyclists in the cab of a truck, offering them a different perspective in thinking about their safety. Likewise it has put its drivers through cycling awareness programmes, providing them with first-hand experience of riding alongside construction vehicles in busy city-centre locations.

On the other side of the hoarding line, site logistics are every bit as important. When DfMA is functioning to its full potential, construction becomes all about logistics – synching loading and unloading areas, cranes, forklift trucks and so on. We have developed new roles to fulfil these requirements: site-based personnel responsible for the movement of materials to and around a project, ensuring their safe and efficient linkage with cranes.

Using handheld technology, they can scan components as they come off the vehicle, feeding this information back into the tracking system in the digital engineering model. The trailers themselves are tracked as well as being equipped with cameras, in case the vehicle is involved in an accident. Cameras are not only forward and rear-facing: with valuable materials on board, they are often focused on the load as well.

Every opportunity is sought to trim down the programme, with the digital engineering model used to devise time-saving logistics strategies. Examples of the type of questions being asked are: How do we achieve the quickest turn on a crane and get materials up into the building as fast as possible? Can we employ completely removable trailer beds and raise an entire load in a single lift with a large capacity crane?

By investing in bigger and faster cranes, the plant and logistics businesses are working together in harmony. As well as large cranes, the lifting team are pioneering a new crane camera product to improve blind lift visibility. Additionally, in response to the growing need for skilled crane operators, Select Plant has launched a brand new lifting technician’s apprenticeship, developed in conjunction with the CITB. Successful applicants will work towards a Level 2 Certificate in Plant Operations – Cranes/Lifting, with ongoing training throughout their career development.

Laing O’Rourke is embracing new ways in moving and lifting components. Specialist trailer systems, such as Faymonville’s in-loader, enable cladding panels to be carried vertically so – on arrival to site – they can be lifted straight up into the building, saving significant amounts of time. 

Windy weather is a big concern of modern construction. With DfMA comes an increased demand for cranes – and heavy winds can cause delays. Laing O’Rourke uses historical wind data to predict wind patterns and monitor wind speeds in real time – embedded within the model. This way, the project team can examine whether it may be better to work on one particular elevation that is out of the wind or work behind windbreaks. If it is too windy for the large tower cranes, we may turn to smaller cranes, platforms and hoists. The business is currently conducting significant research into wind monitoring and telematics to improve performance.

Green plant

Under new legislation announced by Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, all construction plant over ten years old has been banned from the capital in a bid to improve air quality. Any non-compliant equipment has needed to be replaced or retrofitted to meet stringent new standards.

Having continued to invest throughout the recession, Select boasts one of the youngest and greenest fleets in Europe – at an average age of just under three years. In 2014/15 the business invested more than £45 million in new equipment with premium suppliers, including Liebherr, Terex, Caterpillar and Scania. Its equipment is being utilised on projects across the UK, including the recently completed expansion of the Etihad Stadium for Manchester City football Club, and the ongoing Battersea Power Station redevelopment project.

Last year, the business invested in a control centre in St Neots, Cambridgeshire where it carries out around-the-clock monitoring of all the data extracted through the telemetry. This data is used to determine where service and maintenance teams should focus their attention.

Logistics are becoming increasingly important as Laing O’Rourke develops its value proposition. It’s time that the unsung hero of construction was recognised as a vital cog in the machine.

Jurrien HeynenHead of Logistics

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