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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 22 August 2018

Logistics expert handling Dubai Expo 2020 plans for the unexpected

From handling all inventory on site to drawing up plans to cope with sandstorms, the logistics team must be ready for anything

Alan Williams, UPS Vice President, is preparing for one of his next major logistical challenges: Expo 2020 Dubai.  Reem Mohammed / The National
Alan Williams, UPS Vice President, is preparing for one of his next major logistical challenges: Expo 2020 Dubai.  Reem Mohammed / The National

The head of logistics for London's hugely successful 2012 Olympics has revealed how his next mammoth project has brought him to the UAE.

Alan Williams, UPS vice president for Expo 2020 Dubai, said the world famous international event presented a massive challenge for organisers.

Expo Dubai starts in October 2020 and runs through to April 2021. The show travels around the world to a different city every four years to showcase the latest in human ingenuity.

Speaking exclusively to The National, Mr Williams said his team was already hard at work planning for the mega event.

He said part of his role was to plan for the unexpected; which in Dubai’s case meant the potential for sandstorms.

“This is the first time an expo is being held in the UAE and the first time an expo of this scale has ever taken place,” he said.

“The biggest challenge is the unknowns because within the Olympics there is pretty much a set formula on how to do certain things.

“You know what sports will take place and you know who is coming. The challenge with the expo is there are a lot of unknowns.”

About 180 countries will participate in the first world fair in the Middle East and North Africa region, and an estimated 70 per cent visitors are expected from overseas, the biggest numbers in expo history.

Logistically, the challenge is immense. The current UPS team of 12 will grow to nearly 1,000. A dedicated warehouse is being planned on the expo site to be ready by the end of next year to store supplies that will then be distributed across the 4.38 sq km grounds.

At present, material from air conditioner bolts to building supplies for the expo takes up 1,000 sq mts of the company’s Jebel Ali warehouse.

“The best way to explain event logistics is that if you have a venue and you turn the site upside down, everything that falls out of that site apart from the people is probably put there by logistics,” said Mr Williams.

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“Items on the inventory can cover all sorts of sizes from site maintenance equipment to air conditioning. It could be a piece of construction 20m long or it could be a small courier package. Part of what we are doing is finding out what is being produced in a particular country, determining the mode of transport and making it available at the time when it needs to be on site,” he said.

The expo has already begun affecting the way goods are transported to the emirate.

The UPS network previously shipped items from the UAE to Dubai through Europe but in February the company’s new 747-8F freighter, the largest plane in its network, began daily non-stop flights from the US to Dubai slashing transit time by a day.

The logistics team are already preparing for various contingencies so there are few surprises when the doors open.

They learnt from watching thousands of flights cancelled across Europe and the UK when drifting ash from an Icelandic volcano closed European air space in 2010. Despite the eruption happening two years before the London Olympics, Mr Williams said it was an important lesson for planners to prepare for the unexpected anywhere in the world.

“It’s the unknown unknowns that you have to try to indent. We had a good lesson in 2010. We started thinking ‘What if that happened during the Olympics? What would be the impact on logistics?’ We developed a volcano contingency plan that luckily we didn’t have to use,” he said.

The company is also testing technology including robotics, drones, electric cars and smart systems in its European laboratory that it may introduce them to the expo site.

“One of the purposes of the expo is to give the world a glimpse of what tomorrow is going to look like so our opportunity is to show the world what logistics of the future will look like. Whether it is drones, 3D or blockchain, we are looking to figure out how we can apply it to the expo,” Mr Williams said.

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