The Brilliant Minds Behind New Premia

Now that IAG Cargo’s new cutting-edge, 10,000m2 temperature-controlled handling facility at London Heathrow is up and running, we’ve spoken to a few key people who made it happen. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at New Premia from its Programme Director, Business Implementation Manager, and Cargo Planning Manager. 

Graham Miller, Programme Director, New Premia

Tell us about your role and the team behind the programme. 

I’ve been involved in the New Premia programme since 2018, overseeing the huge team of people working on it. Over the programme’s lifespan, I’ve had the great pleasure of working alongside a massively diverse team from a range of disciplines. We worked with planners, architects and developers, focusing on making the best use of land available at Heathrow. We had a process team who determined how the flow of cargo within the building should work, technical teams who designed and delivered the IT infrastructure (kms of cabling and physical equipment), as well as the software (its development and integrations with other systems), and specialists who advised how to manage handling temperature-sensitive premium freight, such as pharmaceuticals.

What are the programme’s benefits for customers and the operation itself?

We’ve optimised the way cargo flows throughout the building which benefits customers from the moment they engage with it. For example, the former building only has two landside doors for accepting freight, whereas the new facility has 11, meaning less waiting times for drivers when freight is dropped off or collected. But this isn’t just a bigger building, it’s smart too. The door a customer is allocated is based on where the customers’ freight is either going to or coming from which results in less distance for the cargo to travel once inside the facility.

One of the biggest benefits of course is additional capacity, meaning we can service more of our customers’ needs. We manage loose shipments, where freight comes into the facility to be ‘built’ into aircraft units which are then loaded onto the belly-hold of the aircraft. But most of our work is to handle intact transhipments where LHR is the connecting point on a much longer world-wide routing. In either case, the 162 new storage cells can be used to store units before their onward connection.

What are some of the challenges you’ve overcome?

Over the last five years, IAG Cargo has committed to investing in infrastructure projects at Heathrow, this being the largest. Coordinating such a large spend across multiple streams and suppliers, whilst managing risk, timelines, dependencies and stakeholders, has been a challenge in its own right. One of the first major challenges was navigating what’s underneath the site itself: the crisscross of electrical ducts, a gas main, abandoned (and live) cables, unknown pipes… and even the Heathrow Express!

Something we’re very proud of is for the first time ever, we’ve integrated iCargo, our Warehouse Management System (which controls what freight is where), with a Mechanical Handling System (which moves freight around the warehouse). To achieve this, we developed new software and integrations, ran tens of thousands of tests, refining as we went, and have now been able to use them in our live operation. It was difficult, but it’s now paying off. 

What does the transition plan look like for the months ahead?

We’ve been gradually moving freight over from our old Premia facility to New Premia since April, to introduce the new processes and help our teams familiarise with the new building. All cargo imports arriving at Heathrow now come into New Premia and we’ve also started managing trans-shipment units, as well as building new freight in the facility. 

We’re about to release another IT system integration, which will allow us to connect with a system called ‘ALERTS,’ our airside management tool. For the first time, this will be combined with iCargo, meaning messages will be sent automatically to airside drivers, telling them exactly where to go to drop off or collect freight and synchronise with the movements of the building itself. This will automate another part of the process, again improving overall efficiency. 

Simon Hibbert, Project and Business Implementation Manager, New Premia

Tell us about your role. What makes it essential, especially now?

My original role was to project manage the installation of the Material Handling System linked to the programme’s infrastructure. After successful completion of audit testing and commissioning, my role has shifted into a Business Implementation Manager. Now, I’m managing the transition of our operation from the old facility into the new one in a phased approach. 

What are the differences between old and New Premia?

The old facility was very manual. Operators needed to find and drag cargo units to an available area for building or breaking, and the space where they could do this was constrained. In New Premia, operators are assigned tasks by iCargo, our Warehouse Management System, via handheld devices which tell them where to go. Meanwhile, our new Material Handling System will fetch a ULD or pallet and transport it to a particular workstation. There are 20 workstations and all are capable of building and breaking freight.

Walking into New Premia is a whole new world: it’s much bigger, brighter, temperature-controlled and even cleaner. It’s easy to get a full view of what’s going on, and our people have more space to move around, making managing the operation a lot smoother.  

What does the pharmaceutical area look like? 

New Premia has a much-increased ability of handling pharmaceutical flows and maintaining the cold chain. The entire facility is temperature-controlled between 15 and 25 degrees, and then we have our dedicated Constant Climate Quality Centre which is approx. 250sqm in size and maintained between 2 to 8 degrees (similar to the interior of your fridge), as well as a large deep freezer at -18 degrees. The rapid-rise doors throughout the facility work in tandem with air-curtain technology, so as soon as they open, air blockers kick in, preventing hot and cold air (depending on the time of year) from harming the temperature-sensitive cargo.

Jon Withey, Car​go Planning Manager, New Premia

Tell us about your role. Why is it unique?

I’ve been involved in the project for nearly four years and was one of the first Cargo Planning Managers. This is a new position designed as a link between the workflow system and our people on the floor, ensuring that freight is available on the workstations for the teams so they can break and build it. I often liaise with the engineering team and operational managers to ensure the system is running correctly and efficiently. 

How did you train to take on this new role?

We completed a week-long intensive training course with Siemens on how to use the software, and a further week training on engineering, so when we liaise with the maintenance team, we better understand how things work and how to deal with any issues that may impact the operation. The teams have also taken part in numerous workshops and courses on New Premia. 

This training has provided me with a very good understanding of how the new system works. It’s been great to share that knowledge, including best practices, with our teams and give them more confidence in working with the new system.

How do you work as a team to deliver 24/7 operations for customers?

Once we fully transition from old Premia to New Premia, at least one Cargo Planning Manager will be on shift every day, 24/7. This automation of the facility alongside a highly-skilled workforce aims to create a more consistent workflow. This helps us manage everything more efficiently, and, ultimately, gives our customers a better experience.

Are you a freight forwarder looking to book your premium freight on our expansive global network? Book here today.