For residents of Sydney, the $16B WestConnex project promises to be a transformational piece of infrastructure.
A 33km motorway that will connect the congested western suburbs to Port Botany and the Sydney International Airport. One that will remove at least 40mins from the average journey. At commencement in 2015, it was Australia’s largest-ever road project.
Like most mega projects, the delivery of WestConnex involves the expertise and collaboration of leading national and international infrastructure contractors. Take, for example, the M4-M5 Link Tunnels scope.
This package, worth over $7B, is being delivered by an ACCIONA (Australia), Samsung C&T (Korea) and Bouygues (France) joint venture (ASBJV). Beneath the feet of Sydneysiders, these partners are constructing twin 7.5km tunnels to allow traffic to bypass the city and connect between the M4 and M5 motorways.
Through outstanding planning and execution, this scope is being delivered almost entirely underground to minimise the environmental impact on residents and the community.
In another example of thoughtful planning, the M4-M5 Link Tunnels team were able to productively deploy 29 Roadheaders at the same time, the most ever on an Australian project.
But building tunnels involves much more than simply digging a hole and installing the tunnel structure. Modern tunnels are full of technical equipment. From air quality and ventilation to tolling and traffic monitoring, a web of interconnected mechanical and electrical services need to be installed and commissioned to ensure that once opened, the tunnel operates without disruption.
The primary goal for the teams installing these services is to follow the sprayed concrete lining team as safely and quickly as possible. However, as this work involves the coordination of many specialist trades and subcontractors, this presents some substantial logistical challenges. “Communication of plans is mission critical for us,” says Tim Kelly, Mechanical Engineer at ASBJV, “site conditions change daily, and we need our supply chain and site teams to adapt almost immediately.”
The ASBJV team knew that with such dynamic plans, they needed to build a short-term planning process that could bring together the plans of multiple engineers of various disciplines to output a single plan that involved each of their subcontractors.
“Communication of plans is mission critical for us.” Tim Kelly, Mechanical Engineer at ASBJV
Building a short-term planning process... in a spreadsheet
At the start, this was a spreadsheet. A spreadsheet in which the team would dump external handover dates, plan their works, assign locations through chainage references, and then delegate to subcontractors. However, with plans changing quickly, even the best spreadsheet (and this was a good one) gets stretched to the limit.
Adapting to handover dates from preceding trades often would result in needing to resequence almost every task in the plan. In a spreadsheet, this meant errors and potential hours of typing in dates. Frequent updates meant numerous copies of the plan without any record or history of what was changed. This made understanding what had changed and how they needed to adapt really difficult for everyone. In the end, the spreadsheet was consuming too much time to be effective.
On top of this, with increasing constraints of subcontractor resources, Tim wanted to introduce resource allocation to his planning process to flag expected numbers of electricians and other trades. “forecasting resources from our spreadsheet would have made it almost unusable without complex (and unstable) macros”
Communicating better with Aphex
Today, the ASBJV mechanical, electrical and commissioning teams plan in Aphex. For them, Aphex has become the core communication tool to the supply chain and a crucial way to rally everyone around the same plan. “We use the Published Versions to track the history of our plans and highlight what has changed to the subcontractors.“ says Tim.
“We use the Published Versions to track the history of our plans and highlight what has changed to the subcontractors.” Tim Kelly, Mechanical Engineer at ASBJV
To manage the rapidly changing site and keep their subcontractors in the loop, ASBJV have built a process around;
Work is owned and updated by 15 Project Engineers
Weekly updates and Publication of the plan (in crucial sprints, this compresses to daily updates and publication)
A combination of Interactive Link sharing and a series of standardised PDF outputs shared to over 50 of the site team and subcontractors
Weekly Program reviews hosted by the Planners
Sandboxed Aphex Projects to run WOTIF or acceleration scenarios
The team also used a custom WBS structure to help identify the location of the work, “we created a location-based WBS in Aphex to allow us to quickly filter to sections of work area varying levels of granularity,” states Tim, “we also run a very strict publication deadline so everyone knows not to be late!”.
Layering in resources to help the supply team
By migrating short-term planning to Aphex, the ASBJV team were finally able to include resources in their short-term plans.
Through critical periods, the engineers will not only assign the Subcontractor and Subcontractor crew to works, but also an estimate of the numbers of each specific trade that would be required for a task. Adding this to their plans unlocked complete visibility on resource demand for everyone.
Tim adds, “adding in labour resources and gangs to our plans allows us to level the resources in real time and make sure there is no miscommunication with site”.
Supporting communication through critical periods
As one of Australia’s largest projects, there are few teams that deal with project risk and complexity to the level faced by the ASBJV team on M4-M5 Link Tunnels.
It is during periods of high risk and pressure that the value of project tools and processes catalyse. Mission-critical tools assist the team in managing the parts of the project that must succeed if the project is to be a success.
For the ASBJV team, communicating plans was that mission-critical thing. Tim said it plainly, “to be honest, we don’t use most of the functionality of Aphex; for us it is just about communicating our plans down”.