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High Speed | A-Plant: Logistical challenges for plant suppliers

aplant surveyor

The UK’s plant hire industry is gearing up to tackle the unique challenges of High Speed 2 (HS2).

One of the issues already being considered ahead of construction of the UK’s HS2 project is how to get the right people, equipment and materials to all the different work fronts at the right time. And, although enabling works have not yet started and the construction contracts have not yet been awarded, the firms likely to be involved have all started tackling this logistical conundrum.

Among those contributing to this discussion are the industry’s leading hire companies, which traditionally get involved a lot later in the project lifecycle. 

“Usually, hire companies are brought onto projects quite late in the day, so we don’t necessarily feel part of the team, and we’re not contributing to new or innovative ways of working, or developing solutions during the bid process,” explains A-Plant commercial director Dave Harris. But HS2 Ltd has been really good in terms of organising events so that our teams are able to meet the tier one joint ventures that are bidding.

aplant surveyor

A-Plant surveyor

A-Plant is hoping to develop collaborative partnerships with the consortiums charged with building High Speed 2

“We are developing relationships with all the main consortiums, and will be working with them as part of their teams as they’re bidding,” he adds.

Harris says he has been very impressed by these meetings and forums, and believes client HS2 Ltd is genuinely trying to promote problem solving and debate. 

“That desire for real collaboration is definitely coming from HS2 Ltd,” he says.

According to Harris, the biggest logistical challenges presented by HS2 are the geographical scale of the project and the sheer volume of resources needed over a long and sustained construction period.

“This is a monster civil engineering project,” he says. “Other large construction projects have tended to be on small sites – like the Olympics; but here, phase one is all the way from Birmingham to London, so one of the logistics challenges is being able to support activity over such a long distance.

A-Plant machine

A-Plant machine

Plant hire firms like A-Plant are planning to establish service centres at key points along the High Speed 2 route, to supply the project with the wide range of equipment it will need

“It will involve having service centres, labour and equipment throughout the length of the route; and we are already looking at how to do that,” he adds.

The second challenge identified by Harris is the scale of the project. “The numbers being talked about are incredible,” he says. 

“You’re looking at £2bn or £3bn a year over a period of six or seven years. I think the Olympics only had one year with a spend like that; so the sheer volume of equipment and service needed presents a challenge.”

One thing the project will have in common with the London 2012 Olympics construction programme is that partnership and collaboration will play an important role, among the winning consortiums and within the supply community – including the hire sector. 

“We firmly believe that partnership and collaboration with other hire and hire services companies will be required to deliver HS2,” says Harris. 

a plant machines

A-Plant machines

“We had good experience of that on the Olympics when a number of companies got together to ensure they could provide the contractors with a one stop shop. We are already talking to existing partners and looking at new potential partners.

“We want to be able to offer all the bidding consortiums a range of services – not just the hire of machines but also purchase of materials, PPE, training and labour supply,” he adds. 

“To do that is going to involve more collaboration than even the Olympics. There’s just so much to do.”

Labour supply is a huge issue for all the bidding consortiums on HS2. “When we go to HS2 meetings and forums, a lot of the questions are about the availability of competent, skilled people,” says Harris. “We want to help with training and induction programmes, and provide labour through our re-hire partners.”

He says A-Plant is looking to extend its own apprenticeship scheme to service centres located along the route, in order to feed appropriately skilled people into the project. 

aplant machine

A-Plant machine

“We’ve split the project into four zones – greater Birmingham, London, the central section, and Euston – and we’ve got a genuine desire to use local people in each of these four zones,” Harris explains. 

“And from a sustainability point of view, we don’t want to be dragging people and equipment regularly from far and wide.”

He says A-Plant’s aim is to make delivery routes as short and efficient as possible, using the most sustainable equipment delivered through the most sustainable means. 

 This is likely to include establishing  temporary on-site service centres and storage facilities, as well as embedding staff within the construction teams.

“This is a really exciting project,” says Harris. “It’s huge, and we’ve got to think through all these issues because we may be lucky enough to win a supporting role on it. We are demonstrating to the consortiums that we are trying to think innovatively and out of the box – not just about the equipment but about all aspects of the logistics.”

Having said that, innovative equipment will play a big part in the project, including telematics that can provide constant real time information on machine productivity, fuel efficiency and CO2 emissions.

“HS2 Ltd has been to see the [equipment] manufacturers, so they understand the art of the possible,” says Harris. “I’m sure the leading manufacturers are well positioned to produce what’s needed.”

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