Heathrow's new construction materials transfer centre has wide ranging social and environmental benefits
An apparently simple concept - centralising construction deliveries - has had profound results across the board at Heathrow airport.
By channelling most materials for worksites through a delivery Consolidation Centre, a raft of benefits can be realised, from cost savings to environmental improvements. Airport security is improved, traffic noise, pollution and safety hazards are reduced and increasingly constrained onairport spaces are kept free.
Suppliers and subcontractors can concentrate on their own tasks, rather than chasing deliveries through on to site.
BAA's Heathrow airport is comparable with a mid-size town, with hundreds of thousands of people working or passing through as passengers daily. The disruption caused by construction is potentially huge. Security concerns magnify the impact.
'There is always construction in progress somewhere, ' says Simon Caklais, BAA senior project leader.
'The projected growth in demand for air travel means both maintaining existing assets and investing in new facilities.'
A staggering £6.6bn will be spent at the airport over the next 11 years, about half on upgrading the four existing terminals with the rest for the construction of the new Terminal 5 complex. The need for minimum disruption to operations or the local environment is paramount, and BAA is determined to make clear throughout its commitment to sustainable development.
One part of that is deliveries.
Until now each supplier or subcontractor has fended for itself, bringing its own materials to the working site.
'But that takes up time and energy, and can be inefficient, ' says John Brooks, from project manager MACE, who is leading the Consolidation Centre's project team. Suppliers, or at least their drivers, may be unfamiliar with the airport and the complex network of roads around it and 'airside'.
Going airside also involves security inspections and chasing everything through can be frustrating and time consuming for onsite teams which have limited work windows.
The answer is for drivers to drop their loads off-airport during the normal working day at a single facility for central distribution, a consolidation centre. This has been done in other industries like car manufacturing, and the Consolidation Centre team also looked to experience in BAA's Retail and Maintenance departments.
Just how the scheme would work was shaped partly by suppliers' wishes, drawing them in through an 'executive forum'.
The result is a handling facility set up in nearby Hatton Cross, close to main roads and easy to find. The centre is housed in part of a British Airways hangar, from where materials are sent out immediately or stored in bulk or on racks. 'The centre is not meant to be a warehouse, ' says Brooks, 'but a way to facilitate deliveries.
There will be a limit of seven days on holding.'
Wilson James provides operational resources, with vehicles up to 17.5t and handlers to take in materials during the day and handler/drivers distributing it at night.
The trial project, which began last November, requires 24 hour notice of deliveries by suppliers and two days notice to call off materials on to the project. The inevitable realisation on site that 'something is missing' or 'we don't have enough' is catered for with an 'emergency' van for extra deliveries, says Brooks. He says the aim is to be as flexible as possible.
The centre handles most types of materials, usually in palletised form, and in fact has developed a 'pallet equivalent' for measuring the throughputs and use.
'We do not deal with all construction materials. Some items may be too large to handle and some materials of course require direct delivery, ' adds Brooks. 'There is not much point in turning ready-mix concrete round in three days.'
Benefits of the centre are various, says Brooks, fitting in with the different social, environmental and economic criteria which underpin sustainable development.
Because the project is still young, some of these have not been quantified and the evidence, on safety for example, is still anecdotal. But tracking and measurement is in hand.
'The safety benefits are clear though, ' he says. Fewer vehicles on the roads mean less chance of accidents. On site safety is improved because more material is used 'just in time', removing hazards from congested sites.
'There are also waste reduction benefits, ' says Caklais, 'because there is less chance of damage on site.' Packaging will be removed from some items in the distribution centre, making it easier to clean up and recycle. Environmental gains include less fuel use by vehicles and less noise. BAA plans to introduce LPG vehicles as well.
Further benefits could be achieved by working with BAA maintenance. 'Their vehicles are mostly in use during the day and stand idle at night when we could use them, ' explains Brooks.
Economic benefits are being assessed as part of the trial and MACE will carry out a 'value stream mapping' exercise. 'The aim is to identify and remove waste from the production and distribution process, ' says Brooks.
A survey of suppliers indicates savings between 0.6% and 2.1% are already being made, says Brooks; not far off a BAA target of 1% to 3%. The trial covers about 30% of Heathrow projects but will be extended to all projects.
'Those figures may not sound much but could be substantial when set against a £6.6bn capital investment, ' emphasises Caklais.
There was some initial resistance to the scheme because suppliers were concerned about third party handling of their materials. But performance figures have hit a target of 95% successful distribution, says Brooks, and suppliers can see the benefits especially as they can concentrate on their core business.
Future potential of the method is significant, concludes Caklais. Not only could it help the Terminal 5 project as it gets under way but the principles could be used at BAA's other airports and in the wider construction industry.
'Logistics techniques like this can work for the construction industry, ' comments Caklais. 'The project demonstrates that.' BAA has now extended the trial to measure the benefits further, he says, and see how it contributes to sustainable development.
Setting new standards When BAA launched its environmental construction awards in May last year, its suppliers responded enthusiastically with 33 construction projects entering the scheme. This year, the awards have been broadened to capture all aspects of sustainable development including the social and economic implications of construction projects as well as environmental impacts.
'The awards were initiated last year in response to an external advisory group at Heathrow which asked how we incentivised designers to include environmental specifications in BAA projects, ' explains BAA group development and design director, Mike Forster.
'Being one of the construction industry's biggest clients, we expect innovation and constant improvement in the sustainability and levels of service of all our projects, ' he continued 'and there's no better way of achieving this than learning from innovation and best practice from other projects.'
Once again, construction industry research body, CIRIA and sustainable development charity, Forum for the Future, have assisted with the development of the scheme and judging of the awards.
Judging criteria include:
a holistic approach to sustainable development issues
innovation and enthusiasm shown by the project teams
the extent to which whole life cycle performance had been considered lknowledge sharing linvolvement of supply chain
measurable improvements in performance against indicators and external benchmarking ladoption of new technologies and processes
technological transfer lbenefits to BAA's business
The BAA Sustainable Construction Awards scheme sets out to recognise, encourage and reward good innovation and best practice in design and construction. Entry was open to BAA project teams and suppliers involved in BAA construction projects across the UK and this year were received 17 high quality entries.
The shortlisted projects and the two winners illustrated in this supplement demonstrate the new standards of sustainable construction.
Project team BAA Wilson James MACE Judges recognised
A holistic approach lSocial, economic and environmental benefits to BAA and the local community lInnovation for the construction industry lHigh transferability lFull involvement of the supply chain