By Stephen Robbins, Operations Manager
Logistics is essential to the successful delivery of any construction project; it influences all key performance areas, including: time, cost, quality, safety and environment. Modern methods of construction, where building elements are manufactured in controlled conditions off-site, place an even greater emphasis on the need to coordinate supply chains, from the manufacture of components through to their delivery and distribution on site. This is achieved by implementing a reliable and robust end-to-end logistics strategy.
Despite the contribution logistics makes to the success of a project, three significant issues influence its application:
- Firstly, the discipline of managing logistics in construction is in its infancy compared to other industries such as retail, which are supported by highly sophisticated supply chains and logistics techniques.
- Secondly, Construction Logistics is a challenging discipline to manage because of a fragmented supply chain and the fact that each project is unique in relation to its location, design and the construction methodologies used.
- Thirdly, “construction” and “logistics” don’t always complement one another; the culture in construction is often one of late planning and retroactively coordinated operations, whereas logistics relies on good planning, organisation, communication and proactively coordinated operations.
Over the past 20 years, the need for off-site logistics support in its various forms has become an accepted norm on the largest and most challenging projects as contractors and developers recognise the benefits of creating a more controlled and coordinated approach to managing people and materials. As a consequence, Consolidation Centres have become a widely acknowledged and accepted concept in the construction industry, offering a solution to a range of complex constraints relating to the site and the project supply chain. Although some regard them as an essential requirement, others view the concept as an unnecessary expense and adopt the more traditional approach to managing logistics, with main contractor managing operations within the boundary of their site hoarding and placing responsibility for coordinating anything off-site to subcontractors. This approach is driven by the traditional procurement route and a competitive tender process. There can be little doubt that Consolidated Construction Logistics works best when it is a client-led initiative, or when it forms part of the planning approval for the project.
The primary of a Consolidation Centre is to facilitate a greater degree of control and efficiency over the process of delivering material and equipment to site. To achieve this, the Consolidation Centre must provide value to the client, the project and its stakeholders. Perceptions are important and the service has to be more than a simple “material lay down area” or remote extension to the construction site storage compound.
As with any successful operation, the Consolidation Centre requires an accurate sales, marketing and pricing strategy and a clear scope to define its purpose and establish basic performance objectives. There needs to be a robust set of systems and processes to support the operation, which should be implemented at the start of a project and administered diligently to ensure a high quality of service. This system must capture enough information to support the broader commercial function and generate sufficient records to enable each consignment to be “tracked and traced” through the Consolidation Centre.
Whilst a Consolidation Centre forms a significant part of the overall Project Logistics Strategy, the service must support the project’s construction programme and interface with other functions on site, including the management and availability of space, crane “hook time” and hoists, to handle, store and distribute material. This means a great deal of collaboration between the Operational Management Team at the Consolidation Centre, the Project Management Team and their subcontractors on site.
Off-site logistics management, in its various forms, has proven invaluable for certain projects by contributing to key performance areas and offering an effective solution to a multitude of constraints on site.
Whilst the vast majority of projects do not utilise any form of off-site logistics support, the industry is in the process of change. As a result, Consolidation Centres are set to become an increasingly common feature as contractors seek an effective means of increasing the level of control and coordination over the supply of materials and equipment to sites, specifically in response to shorter duration build programmes and new methods of construction.
Perceptions within industry are essential and contractors specialising in construction logistics management, particularly those which operate Consolidation Centres, need to offer a consistently high quality service.
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