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Full Steam Ahead: Simulation helps Bechtel Preserve History and Manage the Future with UK Crossrail Project


Bechtel is one of the most respected global engineering, project management and construction companies out there, delivering landmark projects – modern marvels of the world. Creating a modern marvel is no small undertaking I would imagine, although I’ve never tried creating one myself. But my guess is that you wouldn’t just draw out your marvel plans on a napkin, build the thing and then step back and say, “Hmm, we probably should’ve had it a bit more to the left, don’t you think? Pull it all down boys, we’re starting over.”

Process Analysis, with process simulation as its trusty sidekick, typically conjures up images of back office process maps and information flows. Feats of engineering heroics are not something we see every day as simulation projects, even though they very obviously lend themselves to the benefits of What-If analysis: safely exploring options and their affected outcomes in a statistical model, rather than with real people and equipment.

Here’s a great example:

Bechtel is a project delivery partner on the Crossrail project, a massive undertaking in the UK to link several train lines in London. The tricky part of the project is that they have to do the majority of the work in and around one of the world’s busiest cities. There is no room for error, no tolerance for do-overs, and efficiency is critical to keep things on track. Add the pressure of preserving historic structures and the project becomes quite the challenge.

Bechtel’s goal of getting in and out of these congested areas with the least amount of disturbance and risk is a perfect case for simulation of different scenarios to examine which approach will yield the best possible result. One part of the project entailed revamping the Victorian Connaught Tunnel, built in 1878 for steam trains. The tunnel needed to be enlarged to accommodate modern infrastructure, requiring a process described as challenging, slow, expensive and cumbersome. It also involved numerous serious risks. The team modeled the planned process to include resources, task durations and constraints. Simulations of the original plan exposed scheduling bottlenecks, resource utilization issues, and even unforeseen risks. 

Uncover your eyes – this simulation story has a happy ending:  by creating various scenarios that simulate What-If questions, Six Sigma teams were able to identify and manage significant scheduling and equipment risks in a simulated environment prior to starting real work. A beautiful Victorian tunnel is safe and sound and reincarnated in the modern world. Not your typical back-office business process project.

To read the full details about this fascinating project, see Bechtel’s case study on their website.

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