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Conquering The Unknown

Logistics News ME finds out about the project management challenges that arise when 88 vehicles are carving out a road on unchartered territory, which just happens to be the highest, and one of the most unforgiving, peaks in the UAE

Of all the road projects currently underway in the UAE, the road to the top of Jebel Jais – the country’s highest peak at 1,900m – has to be the most difficult.

While predominantly a tourism attraction – and already popular with locals, day trippers and a significant number of filmmakers for car adverts thanks to its location – there are plans also for the Jebel Jais road to provide an economic boost to RAK, providing access to a quarry on the mountainside producing aggregate for the construction industry.

The first 30km of road was opened up by the government of Ras Al Khaimah in October 2014 and to date the new road snakes through eight hairpins and countless corners until reaching a u-turn and vantage point currently 6km shy of the highest peak. The project has reportedly cost more than $82m and more than 5.2 million cubic metres of rock, stone and concrete had to be cut, blasted, removed or filled in.

Construction has been a long and arduous process that began all the way back in 2005, but contractor General Mechanic Company is now working to complete the final 6km which it expects to handover in March 2017, barely six months from now.

Initially the road is flat and follows the harmony of the wadis at the foot of the Hajar Mountains. For the first 12km there is just one lane in either direction but once the road begins its ascent it widens into two lanes, allowing more powerful vehicles to pass.

volvo_434593__e1_8419Yet what made the project necessary also proved to be its greatest challenge – conquering the terrain. Even to reach the foot of the mountain takes vehicles on a brutal route that it sought out by leisure drivers for its rocky off road tracks. Put excavators and trucks through those conditions and you’re straight in at the deep end.

Nigel Johnson, senior MD, FAMCO Group, recalls: “The extreme terrain made this area inaccessible for years. It’s a remote location with limited access points around the mountain areas; unpredictable and harsh weather conditions such as snow, fog and blowing winds; and the surrounding hazards such as loose rocks and avalanches on the mountain.”

Weather conditions can make driving treacherous, with roads often closed in the winter months due to flooding and heavy rain. The area has even been known to see snow during prolonged cold spells and fog covers the mountain – until 10am at certain points of the year – halting work for hours at a time.

From contractors General Mechanic Company, project manager Yaghoub Alipour, says: “There are so many wadis from the Oman border. When it rains one of the biggest risks is rock fall. Unlike most of the roads in the UAE we can have 70 metre high rock face alongside the road. Rain can wash the clay rock faces and damage the surface. The more risky areas are stabilised by us through gritting and bolting in some areas. Our method is to stabilise one face and later come to lower faces.”

Vaezi has been on site since 2008 meaning that by the time the project is complete he will have contributed over 10 years of his career to it.

On the road

The fleet of Volvo vehicles comprised of 50 Volvo Construction Equipment and 33 Volvo Trucks (see box). The project was scheduled into three phases and the equipment provided by FAMCO was supplied throughout each phase. FAMCO, which supplied the Volvo vehicles for Jebel Jais, is currently also supplying three Articulated Dumper trucks to the Fujairah Port extension project, to construct heavy rock reinforced, artificial harbours.

Finding vehicles that could not only scale the difficult mountainside, but also cope with extremes in temperature and potential flooding, sounds like the ultimate in roadblocks, but the team had confidence in Volvo’s ability to complete the job.

volvo_434560__e1_0305Jan-Erik Thoren, business team director, Volvo Trucks Middle East, explains: “From our personal experience Volvo has a proven track record in the Scandinavian terrains and the previous FAMCO project in Saudi Arabia, such as the Empty Quarter desert road. We were extremely confident FAMCO’s Volvo range could cope with the project demands.”

Thoren adds: “The project started two years before FAMCO established a rental and used equipment division. Back then this division targeted the challenging and unique projects to assist in building its fleet as these projects would offer the opportunity to assemble the right fleet for challenging and extraordinary projects. At the same time, the contractor – after two years on the project – realised that in order to deliver according to schedule and budgets, a cost effective solution to equipment needs was required. This was answered by FAMCO’s Rental & Used division. It was a win-win deal for both of FAMCO and GMC by teaming up to undertake such a challenging project.”
The culmination of the challenging ascent, harsh extremes in temperature and a need to deliver the job on time, also had an impact on team dynamics as daily situations constantly called for quick and creative thinking, especially with between 150 and 300 people on site.

Thoren remembers: “This meant we needed a supply chain of easy to deploy, strong and technically efficient equipment. It was paramount. Due to this, FAMCO’s Rental & Used presence with Volvo increased month on month through the project’s duration as more equipment was deployed.”

Vehicle advancements

The Volvo trucks used are enough to tow up to 32 tonnes. These FMX370 Tippers are sturdy enough to bump into a concrete wall and carry on; the bumper corners are made from 3mm high-grade steel. The headlights are high up, away from knocks and split body panels keep any potential damage isolated.

volvo_434553_547b3003The first Volvo FMX from 2010 was followed up with a completely updated version in 2013, including innovative breakthroughs such as Volvo Dynamic Steering. In 2015 Volvo Trucks introduced a new series of solutions that enable trucks and drivers operating in tough conditions to perform their work more smartly and efficiently.

The SD110 soil compactors are 11-ton class compactors providing powerful drum performance for exacting work with soils and aggregates, specialising in site preparation to highways, water retention structures, utilities and more.
Two models of articulated haulers were used, the Volvo A35F and A35E for loading, travel, manoeuvring and dumping and seven models of crawler excavators were required.

For wheel loaders, the Volvo L120F and L180G were used, known for driver safety and comfort and features such as filtered air intake and ergonomic positioning of controls.

While the future of vehicles remains firmly focussed on autonomy and using new and alternative fuels, Volvo’s focus remains on the niche applications of its vehicles for specialist projects such as this one.

In part this is achieved through CareTrack, Volvo’s bespoke telematics system, providing data on productivity and efficiency, including fuel consumption data, location reports and  service reminders. CareTrack is installed in Volvo Construction Equipment and complemented with MATRIS, a built in tool using information gathered from the machine to analyse and monitor its operation, with analysis then used to optimise performance through driver training.

Shahir El Essawy, business director, Volvo Construction Equipment, says: “Volvo invests heavily in developing its product range so that it is always a step ahead from competitors and leading the innovation in the industry. Volvo FMX Trucks used in this project were modified to provide easy handling and manoeuvrability on the steep and curved slopes.

“Accordingly, we ensured non-stoppable performance and most efficient output of machines and vehicles, which contributed towards the improvements of better fuel economy, efficient operation and longer machine life”. The race is now on to complete the final stretch of road to the summit of Jebel Jais, and with huge potential to fulfil the project’s economic ambitions, the coming months could see similar projects gaining support.

With the GCC pledging to invest $121bn in road infrastructure projects back in 2014 – and with Dubai alone set to invest $1bn in its road infrastructure by 2020 – the technology developed and combined in new ways for projects like this one will be called on time again. Projects with unique challenges, like Jebel Jais, can be used as a template for the future advancement of construction and planning practices. Not only do they fulfil the need for vital infrastructure but provide important lessons for the teams working on them.

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