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Elements of success

Civil Engineering Manager of the Year Chris Marshall was instrumental in developing the design and production process for the 0resund immersed tube tunnel off the Danish coast. Damian Arnold reports.

As project manager for the design of the 3.5km 0resund immersed tunnel between Denmark and Sweden, Chris Marshall had to make it his business to convince an at first sceptical contractor to choose an untried construction method.

As a project manager for consultant Symonds, Marshall advised contracting group 0resund Tunnel Contractors on the tunnel element production process which helped win the contract.

The winning bid revolved around the use of a single pour process for each of the eight concrete tunnel segments making up the 20, 57,000t precast tunnel elements forming the tunnel. It also relied heavily on the development of a fast track production line for the elements.

Marshall's Civil Engineering Manager of the Year entry is a testament to partnering between a design consultant and contractor, 0TC whose members are John Laing, NCC of Sweden, Dumez GTM of France, E Pihl & Son of Denmark and Boskalis Westminster of the Netherlands.

His submission reads: 'Early in the tender period some exceptional ideas came from the 0TC tender team, but they were being appraised singly and meeting resistance from conservative team members.

'From my unique position as a design specialist in 0TC's camp, I recognised that by integrating several of these ideas into a coherent scheme, a powerful opportunity presented itself to both reduce construction costs and improve quality.

'Stepping well beyond my official role as design team manager, I worked with 0TC's team to develop these ideas into a new concept. I believe my influence was critical in 0TC's decision ultimately to adopt this radical, contract winning proposal.'

Marshall is proudest of the close working relationship he built up with 0TC from 1994. 'As design project manager you can take the view that temporary works are the responsibility of the contractor so you don't get involved, or even try to prove that proposals don't work. But I'm a bit of a nutcase for innovation; I just believe that there's always a better way of doing something.'

0TC engineering manager Eric Paillas, who was accountable for Marshall's budget, shared his spirit of innovation.

'He and I had a meeting of minds about the need to innovate and keep looking forwards when inevitable setbacks occurred,' says Marshall.

Marshall was instrumental in developing a production line style factory for the tunnel elements as an alternative to building them in an outdoor trench below sea level.

Casting the elements one at a time in a trench which could be flooded before float out would have been slower as production would have had to stop each time the trench was flooded.

Instead Marshall and Paillas developed a 300m long indoor casting yard above sea level from which completed segments could be moved down a slipway into a dry dock, making way for the next segment.

Preventing precast segments from cracking after casting was vital to the success of the process. Consequently Marshall enrolled Dutch concrete specialist Intron SME to prove that a 24 hour single pour method in a temperature controlled shed was possible.

Budget constraints meant that it was cheaper for Symonds to keep its 50 strong design team in England as it would have been too expensive to move them all to Copenhagen. Instead they remained in East Grinstead where they produced 3,000 drawings, sending them across the North Sea by network to network ISDN link.

Marshall did send a small team of eight CAD operators to Copenhagen to apply changes to drawings on screen as the concept evolved.

But his communication coup de grace was the decision to divide his own time equally between East Grinstead and Copenhagen. 'I could have gone out to Copenhagen for formal meetings but only got the official version. I tended to go out for a whole week to develop a feel for the atmosphere in the 0TC's camp, even by just picking up the coffee point gossip.'

His approach was intended to keep conflict at bay so that back in East Grinstead he could put members of his design team - furious that their designs were being constantly changed - into the shoes of the contractors' team.

'I wanted to foster an ethos that change is healthy, but it took a lot of reconciling and I effectively managed the project for four years from Gatwick Airport. Luckily I was able to delegate because there were people in the East Grinstead office whose management skills I could rely on.'

Marshall is at pains to emphasise the team effort and to salute 0TC for sharing in an honest and open partnership.

'We arranged a target fee which was an open ended arrangement whereby the contractor could give us more work without getting his fingers slapped. There was also an element to the agreement that if construction costs soared, we would both take some of the pain, so we both had a vested interest in keeping them down,' said Marshall who was the architect of the fee agreement.

Marshall previously project managed Cork's immersed tube Lee Tunnel, where he gained experience of writing a submission to design and build specifications.

This gave him confidence at the early stages of the 0resund project. 'I felt I was able to go out to Malmo for the tender meeting as a very small fish in a big pond and express my opinions when it wasn't clear that people wanted to hear them.'

After four years see-sawing between Denmark and Britain, Marshall came off the job when the last drawing was delivered in May - ahead of the premature sinking of ill fated element 13 (NCE 20/27 August).

His advice to aspiring young project managers is simple. 'When you're in a meeting, no matter how much the other person is nodding their head, constantly check they understand.'

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