Engineering a success

The PLA’s Business Asset Management process will zero in on asset management from design to disposal.

Turning on a sixpence: the ultra-manoeuvrable mooring maintenance vessel, London Titan is ideal for work in central LondonTurning on a sixpence: the ultra-manoeuvrable mooring maintenance vessel, London Titan is ideal for work in central London

A reorganisation in the past year has brought all of the PLA’s engineering functions under one umbrella – and this change has certainly underlined the breadth and depth of the expertise and services involved.

Marine services, hydrographic services, civil engineering, mechanical and electrical engineering, and navigation systems engineering are now all within the portfolio overseen by the director of marine operations, Peter Steen.

“A key advantage of putting all of the engineering functions into one directorate is that it enables us to look very carefully at our asset management,” he says.

“As a direct result of the strategic initiatives within the Thames Vision, we have embarked on a major Business Asset Management process, closely linked to integrated ERP (enterprise resource planning).

“Up to now, we have had various programs in which we hold all the information about our assets; now, we are looking to create and maintain a consistent measure of all our assets and what condition they are in. Where previously, smaller less valuable items would not be listed in our asset register, now we intend to assess assets right across the PLA, from PCs to boats.

“This new Business Asset Management process will introduce a uniform condition assessment, so we can gather some KPIs (key performance indicators) that show how we are doing as a business and how we are looking after our assets.”

Yes, this is a huge undertaking, says Peter Steen. Work will start in 2017; civil engineer Sarah Robinson will head up the project. She will analyse where information is currently recorded, how it is accessed and how it can be linked to a comprehensive GIS (geographic information system).

“The idea is to manage everything from design to disposal, right the way through its lifecycle,” says Peter Steen. “Ultimately, the aim is to improve maintenance and save money. We will move away from ‘reactive’ maintenance, which tends to be more expensive, to more planned maintenance.”

New vessels

The arrival of the £7 million mooring maintenance vessel London Titan at the end of 2015 represented the largest single investment made by the PLA in two decades.

Built by Manor Marine in Portland, Titan, 36.5 metres long and 13.5 metres wide, is designed to lay buoys, haul wreckage from the bottom of the river, support diving operations and carry out small plough dredging operations.

“The Titan has done some sterling work in its first year of operation,” says Peter Steen. “This has ranged from some challenging salvage work to installing moorings for Tideway.”

During 2017, the PLA will look to place an order for a new river traffic control vessel. This will play a vital role in the river, for example, when works are ongoing or traffic disrupted. The focus will be on a vessel with the lowest emissions and best fuel efficiency possible, consistent with the requirements of the needs of the role.

The ‘backstage team’

Anyone familiar with the River Thames might also be familiar with the sight of a PLA workboat, launch or other vessel going about its work. But do they actually have any idea what that workboat and its occupants might be doing?

PLA Essential maintenance:Essential maintenance: the PLA civil engineering team looks after everything from river revetment walls to radar towers.

The extraordinarily wide range of support services provided by the PLA isn’t always appreciated and yet they underpin the smooth running of the port. Indeed, a successful, thriving Port of London relies on this ‘backstage’ support.

Diving, salvage, mooring maintenance, underwater inspections, wharf services, boat lifting, load-out services, storage, driftwood and rubbish clearance, maintaining aids to navigation and pollution response are all within the remit of the marine services department, which works along the full 95-mile stretch of the tidal Thames.

The team are based and coordinated at Marine House, the PLA’s operational support facility at Denton Wharf, where the PLA’s fleet of nearly 40 working vessels are maintained.

The PLA operates two specialist craft, Driftwood II and Driftwood III, for removing rubbish from the river and the team also regularly empties the passive driftwood collectors that are located along the river. The PLA also works with the environmental charity Thames21, supporting its volunteer foreshore clean-ups.

Denton Wharf

Denton Wharf, near Gravesend, plays a key role in the success of the Port of London.

Here, the PLA operates a 40-metre jetty which is perfectly located for serving the Thames and much in demand for loading and offloading construction and other equipment.

The PLA also operates a 70-tonne capacity boat lift, which is in frequent use for its own vessels and also for commercial vessels, including dredgers, cabin cruisers, barges, workboats and passenger boards. These are all lifted out of the water to undergo surveys, routine maintenance work, refurbishments and repairs. The PLA also provides a jet washing service for owners.

The boat lift operation is now moving up a gear. A new boat lift has been ordered from Roodberg in the Netherlands and will arrive in 2017.

“This new boat lift will be larger, with four-wheel steering and it will be remote control, providing a safer operation,” says Peter Steen. “It is being built with a nominal 100 tonne lift but downgraded; the actual weight capacity will be about the same, as we are limited by ground strength.”

Further investment at Denton has included the construction of a new welfare unit, providing much improved facilities for contractors working onsite from the start of 2017.

A successful, thriving Port of London relies on its ‘backstage’ support.

Investments and improvements

Accommodation and facilities used by PLA crews on Royal Terrace Pier is to be improved and upgraded.

The civil engineering team have completed a programme of improvements at Richmond Lock and Weir.

The upgrade of the Broadness radar has been completed.

Work is due to start on the construction of a new £1 million radar tower at Northfleet.

Work is underway to create a planned maintenance system for all of the PLA’s vessels, including everything from powered craft to barges and pontoons.