Olympics: Get in Training

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It’s not just the competitors that need to be prepared for the London 2012 Olympics – road congestion and closed lanes will throw up a host of challenges for logisticians.

Holding the world’s largest peacetime event in the most populous city in Europe was always going to be a challenge. Keeping the games and the rest of the county’s logistics operations running smoothly will be a delicate matter of balance, with 30 million items being delivered to the games, some 8.8 million spectators clogging up transport networks, and 109 miles of London’s roads being recommissioned as the “Olympic Route Network”.

UPS, the official logistics supplier for the games, has been planning ahead since 2009, and has now begun moving inventory into the games sites.

It is operating 850,000 sq ft of warehouse space, including some 66,000 pallet positions, across two warehouses in Tilbury and Stevenage. 150 vehicles are assigned to the project, and more than 1,000 employees.

2011 was a year of test events for UPS which has proved to be invaluable, says Alan Williams, director, London 2012 sponsorship and operations.

“Testing our entire operational procedure has involved tweaks here and there. For example at the basketball test event we had to unload a wooden floor from a curtainsider, but it rained and we couldn’t risk getting the floor wet because it could warp, so we were stuck for hours. So we have been stepping up our weather proofing plans.”

And warehousing had proved a massive problem. Millions of inventory items, from masking tape to gymnastic frames, were arriving at one goods-in area, and throughput was well below expectations. So they re-zoned the warehouse, and each item is now labelled to go directly to the relevant area of the facility before being processed. Williams says this increased throughput by 30 per cent.

There have always been contingency plans, but since Williams and his team took on the project they have been faced with ash clouds grounding flights for weeks, and cities in the grips of riots. Williams says it was a case of “known unknowns and unknown unknowns.”

For example the riots that erupted in various UK cities last summer happened to coincide with the road cycling test race. The real test for UPS was when police identified that the barriers designating the track were potential missiles. This led to Williams’s team sourcing several miles of marine chain which was then cut into 4m sections to tie down each barrier. These then had to be secured with padlocks which Williams says were procured from just about every retail outlet across the South East.

But the scale of resources UPS has been able to dedicate to the task cannot solve all problems, such as restricted access. For example, The ExCel centre in London’s docklands, which will host 143 sessions of events such as boxing, fencing and paralympic powerlifting, is a busy conference centre. UPS has been given a window of six weeks before the games to “bump in” and just two weeks after to clear out completely.

And as with many Olympics over the decades, advanced access to venues is also limited by the simple fact that some sites have not been built yet. While construction is well on schedule, there are some testing timescales ahead. The beach volleyball arena on Horse Guards Parade, which will be covered in 3,000 tonnes of sand, cannot be started until after the Queen’s diamond jubilee celebrations in June.


Olympic restrictions are something the rest of the nation’s logisticians should also be familiar with. The Olympic and Paralympic Route Networks will ban some turns, block off some side roads and remove many parking and loading bays. “Games Lanes” will be requisitioned for the use of “Games Family” and emergency vehicles only.

However Peter Hendy, London’s transport commissioner, has been dispelling many of what he calls the “myths”. He says: “Any vehicle can use the vast majority of the ORN; in London it covers just one per cent of the road network – and only one third of that is ‘Games Lanes’.”

The London Lorry Control Scheme is another potential snag. It restricts the movement of vehicles over 18 tonnes at night-time and weekends in the capital and is not being relaxed. This could well catch out transport firms who have to change their routes or schedules to accommodate the games. Every vehicle will need permission to avoid penalty charges, and even those already licensed are required to minimise use of restricted roads. Using more sub-18 tonne vehicles instead will be costly as well as having a serious effect on congestion.

London Councils, which runs the scheme, says it is happy to consider special routeing requests and will be as flexible as possible. It will accept online applications for permission to use restricted routes, and is also developing a temporary permit for games time.

“Londoners will face unprecedented disruption to their working patterns, transport network and public services during the games. Our elected members are committed to keeping the scheme in place during the games, to afford residents protection from disrupted sleep. It is also in the best interests of those hauliers with legitimate need to be in London overnight that the scheme stays in operation. Without it, London could be used as a cut-through by all HGVs, potentially increasing night-time traffic and making deliveries more difficult,” said London Councils.

Nevertheless restricted access and complying with the changing rules of the road is still a major worry. “Smaller operators not getting licences in time is a big concern for us,” says Chris Sturman, chief executive of the Food Storage and Distribution Federation. “It is a matter of urgency.”

To mitigate disruption, Transport for London has a dedicated web site with detailed maps of the Olympic and Paralympic route network, advice of new restrictions, who will be affected, how to plan for minimum disruption, and the code of practice for quieter out-of-hours deliveries.

By the end of March the web site should also include a freight journey planner, and a “games data layer” will also be added, including specific information for each day of the games, a database of postcodes that will be affected and which borough governs each restriction, so that operators know who to contact for further information.

Software vendors like Paragon and MapMechanics are supplying programs to integrate and extrapolate TfL’s data. Phil Ingham, Paragon’s support director says: “Paragon customers servicing the areas affected will be able to use their existing systems to plan their deliveries simply by using the additional data files we can provide.”

TfL is also running seminars across the country for SMEs and specifically for freight forwarders in the next months. The sessions are three hours long, with around 20 attendees, and they cover the impacts on the road network during the games focusing on the “Four Rs” which TFL has been promoting: reducing, re-routing, re-timing and re-moding deliveries.

For professional bodies like the FSDF, the RHA and the FTA, supporting their members with information about the impact of the Olympics has become essential. Sturman says: “We planned our conference programme because we felt there was a specific need among our members for guidance as to how to feed London during the Olympics, so they can maintain and develop their own services.”

Maintaining service of course implies keeping customers happy, and involving clients in the planning processes is a good way of avoiding disappointment, or potentially losing business. This means looking beyond your own service offering, to consider factors further along the supply chain. Will your customers’ demand be affected? Could suppliers wind down operations over the period?

“Logistics firms are normally very good at pre-planning and in the main logistics people know how to solve problems, the real problem will be customers who haven’t thought seriously about how their business will be affected,” says Ian Wainwright, TfL’s Road freight programme manager.

Zac Brown, operations director of Norbert Dentressangle, says: “Our biggest concern is the impact on the road network, and the implications for customer service.” Norbert has been engaging with its customers, bringing them along to the FTA and RHA seminars and is holding its own Olympics update conference in March. This will also include an element of expectation management, and Brown says they are preparing customers for the now novel idea that deliveries scheduled during the games won’t be eligible for last minute changes.

Cardinal sin

David Scott, head of warehouse and distribution for Torque points out that delayed deliveries could prevent retailers from meeting their on-line service promises, and even the cardinal sin of stock-outs.

The potential disruption to back room operations shouldn’t be underestimated either. Everyday maintenance issues could be magnified by longer delivery times for replacement equipment and delayed engineers. According to research by BT, almost a third of businesses are at risk of missing out on potential opportunity from the Olympics because they have neglected to prepare for the impact on staff attendance.

But this research alludes to the potential for increased business during the games, and it is a tantalising prospect. BT’s survey found 73 per cent of businesses expect to prosper as a result of the games. Increased footfall across all 35 Olympic venues across the country will be a source of massive opportunity. But for core logistics services the consensus is that it will be more established 3PLs that benefit from extra custom.

The games could be a stimulus to use technology to improve service, in particular monitoring social media to stay ahead of disruptions. “The Olympics are likely to cause a host of disruptions, particularly around travel. Taking advantage of the insight that crowd sourcing offers – by keeping abreast of communications on social networks, for example – will allow businesses to increase the flexibility and dynamism of their supply chains,” says Karsten Horn of Inform.

UPS has been testing different types of technology its work for the games. It has a fleet of 20 electric vans servicing the games which will go into general operation later this year, and it is currently testing ten bio methane tractor units which are also destined for the games fleet before going into wider circulation. To demonstrate the potential of alternative modes of transport it also shipped some 440 containers of furnishings for the Olympic village direct from the Tilbury warehouse via waterways.

Another innovation is that this is the first Olympics to have a totally managed dissolution strategy. Williams has been tasked with totally clearing the venues and warehouses by the end of the year. Every single item will either be “de-hired” sold or given to schools or charities by 31st December. In contrast, UPS also managed the warehousing for the Beijing Olympics which had no exit strategy, and Williams says they still held 12,000 drums from the opening ceremony almost a year later. In fact, Williams says the few weeks after the Paralympics will be an activity peak similar to just before the opening of the Olympics and the switch to the Paralympics.

During the games period UPS will only be running replenishment operations, and specials such as anti-doping equipment between midnight and 5am.

For the rest of us the worst should be over by October. Most logistics businesses are realistic about planning, and are braced for the summer to be a challenging quarter.

Liam Northfield of the FTA says: “The Olympics represents a special challenge to the logistics sector in which it boils down to having more things to deliver and a severely restricted window in which to do it. We have been telling our members to think of it like a three month Christmas period.”

Those who haven’t made plans for the Olympics must act fast, but there is still time. With the wealth of advice and information on offer it should be a priority to manage and limit disruption.

The unprecedented strain on our transport system will surely put logisticians to the test. But somewhere among all the known and unknown factors to consider, there could also be the potential for huge success.

Case study: Moped mobilised engineers

Sainsbury’s has identified that its greatest challenge during the games will be maintaining punctual deliveries to stores and home-shopping customers. But it has also prioritised maintenance of essentials such as computer systems, vehicles, refrigeration systems and other utilities, as failures can reduce stock, increase waste, and inhibit throughput.

Since late 2010, Sainsbury’s logistics department has been consulting with TfL, the Olympic Delivery Authority, and key suppliers. In reviewing logistics operations, it has optimised planned deliveries by considering delivery curfews, changes to road layouts, access restrictions and the implications of the ORN.

Sainsbury’s facilities management team is taking an innovative approach to maintaining service levels, and is evaluating two initiatives with its supplier, Arcus Solutions FM: first response mopeds and engineering implants.

For all stores within the M25, mechanical, electrical and refrigeration engineers will be mobilised on mopeds and motorbikes to respond to issues fast, reducing traffic during games times.

For the busiest 100 days around the games, larger stores will host in-store engineers who will use stockpiled spare parts to solve refrigeration, access, plumbing, drainage or cooling issues. So instead of working out of a van, they will work out of the store.


1. Check your known delivery locations against the TfL postcode list available from www.tfl.gov.uk/developers (you will need to register).

2. If a postcode is affected, look at the ORN maps on the TfL web site to determine how that delivery point will be restricted. Even if there are no additional restrictions to the delivery point, routing may be affected, so check your current routes against the ORN maps at www.tfl.gov.uk/orn.

3. Talk to your customers about how their deliveries may be affected next summer. Ask for estimates of volumes. Can you deliver in a different way? Consider the four Rs: Reduce, Retime, Reroute or Revise the mode of deliveries.

4. Consider how you will resource your business over the summer. Plan your scheduled maintenance to minimise vehicle down time during the Olympics. Consider any changes to your staff holiday policy for the Olympics. Do you need to hire more drivers or extra vehicles?

5. Check if there are any other operating restrictions that you need to overcome. Are all the vehicles you will be using in London compliant with the new tougher Low Emission Zone standards which took effect in January? Do you have environmental restrictions at any of your operating centres which will prevent you from servicing your customers at night? Do you need to apply for a London Lorry Control Scheme permit if you wish to operate at night or at weekends in London? Check this at www.londoncouncils.gov.uk.

Case study: M&S trials night deliveries

Transport for London has partnered various London boroughs and businesses to identify best practice for out-of-hours activity, and a series of trials across the capital have tested how the needs of residents and businesses can be balanced successfully.

Marks & Spencer has a medium-sized Simply Food store on Earl’s Court Road, which is on the ORN and surrounded by residential property.

The store currently receives fresh produce deliveries in roll cages from 6 am, to ensure fresh stock is available for customers when it opens at 8 am. Throughout the games period, these need to be made between midnight and 6 am, as loading restrictions will apply at other times on this section of the ORN.

M&S shift supervisors, the store manager and logistics manager all took part in a trial working group along with Tfl, and Kensington & Chelsea environmental health noise team officers. They ran a three-week trial of early morning deliveries at the store in September 2011.

TfL conducted an audit to identify potential noise sources at the delivery point during normal unloading activity. It also installed real-time noise monitoring equipment, to analyse noise during the trial period.

For the trial, deliveries arrive at 4:30 am with goods unloaded in the delivery bay on Earl’s Court Road, directly in front of the store, and wheeled with roll cages across the kerb and pavement to the front doors. Borough noise team officers also completed on-site auditing during the trial.

M&S staff were fully briefed on the trial’s objectives and the content of the code of practice for quieter out-of-hours deliveries.

In the first week of the trial, following a review by the M&S logistics manager, changes were made to add a sheath to tail-lift guardrail chains to further reduce noise from metal-on-metal contact.

An important lesson from the trial was that roll cages, particularly empty units, pose a challenge for quiet deliveries because of the rattle caused by metal-on-metal contact. However noise can be minimised if the driver and store delivery staff take extra care when handling the cages and ensure that any necessary preparation takes place inside and not on the street.

Dave Horden, M&S logistics manager, says: “This has been a very important trial for M&S, as it provided the opportunity to have a “dry run” of what we’ll need to do, both at this store and elsewhere, during the games period. Most importantly, it proved that the code of practice works and it is possible to deliver through the night in sensitive areas as long as we demonstrate best practice and use common sense. We intend to roll out the code of practice for night-time deliveries across London.”

Case study: Print opportunities

While most logistics operators will be focusing squarely on reliability, there are examples of firms using the games as a chance to try something new. Branding is one example of something that can be ramped up to take advantage of the world’s gaze falling on the UK.

“Any company that uses returnable transit packaging for transporting their goods should take advantage of branding opportunities. Screen printing plastic pallets and containers with a company name or logo will help make them more visible during transport and will also enhance security throughout the supply chain,” says Russell Smith of Goplasticpallets.com.


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