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The Background Of Baggage Handling Systems

What was to be the worlds major automated airport baggage managing system, became a vintage storyline in how technology tasks can go wrong.

Faced with the necessity for greater international airport capacity, the city of Denver elected to create a new state-of-the-art airport that would cement Denver's position as an air travel hub.

Denver's new international airport was to be the delight of the Rockies, a think about of modern engineering. It had been almost twice how big is Manhattan and about 10 times the breadth of Heathrow. The air port are designed for the landing of three aircraft planes together even in bad weather. The airport's baggage-handling system was even more impressive than its girth. The coal-mine like vehicles ran along 21 mls of steel keep track of. 4, 000 "tele-cars" routed and sent luggage between the counters, gates and claim areas of 20 different airlines. A CNS of some 100 computer systems connected one to the other and 5, 000 security cameras, 400 wireless receivers and 56 bar-code scanners coordinated the safe and well-timed arrival of each baggage.

At least that was the program.

The airport's baggage managing system was a crucial component in the plan. By automating the baggage handling, aeroplanes turnaround time was to be reduced to less than thirty minutes. Faster turnaround designed more efficient operations and was a cornerstone of the airport's competitive gain.

Despite such noble intentions the program immediately thawed as inefficient estimation of the complexness of the job resulted in swelling problems and general population mortification for everyone engaged. The inauguration of the international airport got postponed by 16 calendar months as a result of problem. Expenditure to keep up the empty air port and interest charges on building loans cost metropolis of Denver $1. 1M each day throughout the delay.

Of the numerous awkward gaffes on the way one was an unplanned demo of the whole system to the advertising. It elucidated how the system crushed carriers, expelled content and how two carts moving at high speed retorted when they bumped into each other. When starting day finally arrived, the system was simply a silhouette of the real plan. Rather than computerizing all 3 concourses into one stand-alone system, it was used only in one concourse, by a one air travel and limited to flights that have been outbound. Rest of the baggage handling was carried out using standard conveyor belts and a tug and trolley system that was entirely manually operated. This is hurriedly built when it became absolutely clear that the robotic baggage handling system was never going to accomplish its goal.

Although the offcuts of the system survived for a decade, the system never worked properly and in August 2005, United Airlines announced that they might forsake the system completely. The maintenance costs of $1 million monthly substantially exceeded the every month cost of a manual tug and trolley system.


Like all other failures the problems can be observed from numerous vantage tips.

In its humblest form, the Denver AIRPORT TERMINAL (DIA) job botched because the key decision makers cannot analyze the intricacy of the task with perfection. As intended, the machine was one of the most complicated baggage system ever before endeavored.

There was an exponential development in the complexness of the project as it was almost ten times larger than other baggage system. The center of the intricacy was a problem related from what is known as "line controlling" in task management terms. To change system performance, vacant carts had to be circulated surrounding the airport ready to carry fresh baggage.

With more than 100 pickup factors, the algorithms essential to anticipate where in fact the clear carts should await new luggage epitomized a hideous desire in the numerical aspect queuing theory.

This inability in anticipating the number of bare carts required resulted in a delay in the picking up of baggage an as a result of which the system performance slip downhill.

One of the main reasons of delayed initiation of the job was failure to recognize the complexity and the chance involved. Based on the original project schedule, this hold off left a little over 2 yrs for the service contracts to be authorized and for the machine to be designed, developed, analyzed and integrated. The closest analogous jobs although much smaller and simpler, had taken 2 yrs to use. Given the dramatic increase in terms of size and intricacy, implementation the Denver system in 2 yrs was an unmanageable process.

As due to the erroneous estimation of the intricacy of the baggage system, the attempts required were also underestimated. That supposed that without comprehending it, the Job Management team had calculated the baggage system as the critical route of the complete airport project. To meet the airport's scheduled opening time, the project needed to be accomplished in only two years. This clearly was inadequate time and that miscalculation led to the project exposure to gigantic degrees of plan stress. The other succeeding problems were probably a result of (or frustrated by) shortcuts opted by the team and the mistakes determined by them as they desperately tried to meet up with the schedule.


Till now what has been reviewed has made the basic mode of failure pretty clear. But to reach the center of the situation and what could have been done to in another way, we have to understand how the important decisions were made which eventually hampered the complete job. Project failures typically involve lots of faulty decisions, but within those many flaws, some specific key decisions will be the generators of the sequence of proceedings that eventually lead to catastrophe.

Key Decision 1 - A modification in tactics

At the beginning of a project strategic decisions are made that arranged the project's keep tabs on. Regarding DIA, a tactical blunder was made that induced "flip-flop" to be made part way through the job.

Before asking for for bids for a system in the middle of 1991, the DIA's Task Management team possessed expected that each airlines would take care of their own baggage controlling activities.

In 1991, the DIA's Task Management team modified their strategy and recognized that an built in baggage handling system needed to be built. This required them to get back the responsibility from the average person airlines and perform the whole job themselves. This alteration of strategy showed up only about couple of years before the airport's planned inauguration particular date. This timing of your choice played a major part behind the needless agenda stress that the task was exposed to.

Although your choice made sense in the manner that only one built-in system would be there with the complete responsibility on the DIA government bodies, the timing of your choice was not proper. This resulted in a hold off in start of the integration task. They got two years less time to finish it.

The significant point that the airport's Project Management team failed to see was that the change in technology required an analogous change in the organizational accountabilities. The failing to recognize that change signifies a planning inability that happened during the start of the project.

Overall, the problem made was failing to connect the airport's overall business strategy (the aim of having one of the world's most qualified international airports) with the sub-strategy of building the baggage system.

Key Decision 2 - Your choice to continue

What is even more unexpected is that regardless of knowing that there is inadequate time, both DIA's Job Management team and BAE wanted to just do it with the full-scale project.

Before entering into the BAE contract, there were at least three clear suggestions that the task was not possible in two years' time:

Breier Neidle Patrone Associates report clearly showed that the difficulty was too much for the system to be built efficaciously.

The three bids received pointed out that none of them of the sellers could have developed the system with time before the opening date.

Munich International airport warned that a easier version designed for them had taken about 2 yrs to be built and around another 6 months to eliminate the bugs.

BAE initially did not choose to bet for the task, but the Key Engineer of DIA directly talked with them and managed to persuade them by saying the amount of prestige that was involved with such a huge scale project.

Many from inside the BAE elevated their concern about the complexity of the machine to be developed and the lack of time. But all the professional advice was ignored plus they went in advance with the task with a development time of 2 years.

Many factors may have led them into that trap and likely issues that may have affected your choice making. Other than the principle Engineer's point of view and BAE's passions there were other factors or values which made the whole project start.

Both sides could have acknowledged that they were working in just a constricted timeframe and the pressure to go rapidly might have caused them to put due-diligence to 1 side.

The inherent notion that such a big airport wouldn't normally function effectively lacking any robotic system. As a matter of fact, the airport is operating effectively with a manual system set up.

Key Decision 3 - The timeline, budget and scope

Deciding on the timeline, budget and scope of the job is a critical issue and even more critical is committing with them to your customer. BAE do exactly that to the DIA's project management team. Your choice to give a firm promise to scope, schedule and budget sent large risk onto BAE's shoulders. This clearly demonstrates the top management of BAE was not at all aware of the quantity of risk that these were handling.

BAE and the DIA's Job Management team made yet another mistake through the consultations. They excluded the airlines (who had been key stakeholders) from the negotiations.

Excluding stakeholders from conversations of key job decisions is obviously a trailing strategy.

Key Decision 4 - Acknowledgement of the alteration requests

BAE and DIA's Job management team cannot evade from the stakeholders' stresses. Although they determined during discussions that no change requests would be entertained, they had to simply accept them as the pressure was about them to meet up with the stakeholder needs. The stakeholders in cases like this being the airlines, which they ignored during the original negotiations.

Some of the requests forced those to make significant changes in portions where they thought work was already completed.

Incorporating these changes got other troubling repercussions. They failed to realize the effect these changes may have and how they might increase the intricacy of the whole system.

Although many people thought about the consequences, their voices did not seem to reach the higher decision making government bodies. There is big communication disarray.

Key Decision 5 - Treading another path

A public demonstration of the job was presented with to the press sometime in 1994 and it was a major embarrassment. It exposed all the defects of the job and the Mayor immediately purchased for an exterior specialist to be employed. Mattias Franz of Logplan Consulting of Germany was asked to look into the matter. Predicated on his report, the Mayor scraped the project and ordered for the building of any manual trolley system at yet another expenditure of about $50M USD.

Although the Mayor needed a very sensible decision, it discovered another major flaw with the job. By enough time the Mayor got action, the job was already 6 months behind agenda and had missed a number of opening schedules.

The missed starting dates and the tragic demonstration indicate that those at the top echelon actually possessed almost no clue about the true position of the task.

A job of such size and intricacy should always have an external expert or expert looking after it throughout the complete developmental and implementation stage.

Some other failure facts

While the inefficient estimation of intricacy, lack of planning, fruitless marketing communications and lowly management oversight drove the catastrophe, the job underwent a great many other troubles that multiplied the problems.

Some of these issues were inescapable, but others were almost certainly a consequence of the time crunch the project was facing. Among the excess issues that impacted the task;

Failure of Risk Management

Throughout its developmental and execution phases the job faced a number of specialized problems for which they had not accounted for. These exact things aggravated their already haphazard situation.

Such problems were likely foreseeable experienced the team a bit more attentive on risk management activities. Again possibly because of this of the time crunch under which they were working, appropriate risk management techniques seem not to have been developed.

Change in Leadership

In 1992 The Chief Engineer passed away. He was the system's de facto guarantor and his loss of life left the job deprived of much required authority. According to records, his interim replacement lacked the in-depth engineering knowledge essential to understand the system. The replacement administrator also had to manage his previous responsibilities and it stretched him to the limitations.

Issues with Structures and Design

A amount of reports specify that the there was an natural problem with the design that was chosen. It was unnecessarily complicated and susceptible to bugs. Some of the issues were:

There were more than 100 specific PCs in the machine. They were all networked jointly. If anybody of the PC failed, there might have been an outage, as there is no automatic back-up taken of the info.

As the nature of the design recommended a sent out structure, (with Personal computers scattered around the several areas), it put into the difficulty of fixing problems when they came up up,

The most detrimental thing about the system was its failure to identify jams. So, whenever a jam occurred, it kept piling on increasingly more baggage and thus worsening it.

Again time crunch might have been a reason for the design problems. In such a situation people settle for the first design or solution they can think of. That is exactly what may likely have happened. In addition time crunch often causes teams to focus on the "happy course" design without spending time on devising ways of counter the situation or make the machine fault tolerant.


The DIA catastrophe is a prototype for failure a lot of other IT implementation projects have used. Much like so a great many other failures, DIA suffered from;

The inefficient estimation of complexity

An lack of proper planning leading to consequent modifications in strategy

Extreme program pressure

Absence of due diligence

Committing to public and customer in the face of enormous hazards and uncertainty

Inefficient management of stakeholders

Communication gaps and collapses

Design not failsafe

Inefficient risk management

Failure to understand the repercussions of change requests

Absence of management oversight

While the above facts denote contributors to the letdown, there exists a unitary problem that been around in the heart of it all. For a project to reach your goals people need to make effective decisions and that requires a number of elements. The main two elements are expertise and knowledge. None of them of the groups involved in expanding the DIA's baggage handling system had prior connection with a growing and utilizing system of the magnitude.

That lack of knowledge, combined with the undeniable fact that advice from experts was habitually dismissed, is the epicenter of the fiasco.

The original planning decisions i. e. to just do it with a single airport wide built-in system (in spite of being too past due to do so) and the firm's votive commitments to scope, timeline and budget all represented decisions which were created by people who did not possess the required knowledge. The miscalculations caused by those selections were the sparks that kindled the flame.

Often we must face situations which we have never encountered before, nor learn how to proceed without risks. The success or inability of such a predicament depends on just how we react to it. The step should preferably be recognizing the situation and its nitty-gritties, but the whole DIA job management team and BAE managers failed to do this. Had they recognized their absence of knowledge and the ambiguity they were facing, measures could have been taken to reduce the uncertainty. One of these might have been taking suggestions from experts who acquired some kind of previous experience in that kind of assignments.

The cheerful part of the storyline is that in Feb 1995 DIA performed ultimately wide open and in spite of using a big manual trolley based system, proved to be a great success. The apprehensions of a manual system being too slow for and airport like DIA and would cause upsurge in the turnaround time of the aircrafts, was never proved.

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