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Why it's high time for construction logistics

In this article, Greger Lundesjo discusses the challenges of logistics in construction.

Construction logistics – on the surface it looks so simple. Just bring the required materials to site so that the house, school, hospital or high-rise block can be built. But there are challenges. And in the first chapter of Supply Chain Management and Logistics in Construction Professor Michael Browne identifies three: the challenge of place, the challenge of complexity, and the challenge of achieving higher levels of sustainability.

Place, because in a world of accelerating urbanisation, the congested urban environment is where most construction takes place. Complexity, because projects are large with many stakeholders (clients, local authorities, architects, construction companies etc.); and with many specialists and subcontractors contributing to the build there is not one but many supply chains that must be coordinated - some of which are global and many of which are extremely time-critical. Sustainability, because construction is one of the largest consumers of resources and a major producer of waste; and it takes place right where people live.

While in many industries logistics (and supply chain management) is recognized for the strategically critical role it plays, in construction it is still something of a poor relation. But this is slowly changing, and it has to change if the construction industry is to successfully meet the challenges facing it – such as those mentioned above. In the past (even now in some companies) logistics was a term that related only to site services e.g. cleaning, waste handling, safety and provision of facilities for the workforce. Then it came to include material storage and handling on site; and from there it has grown to include the management of deliveries and “the final mile” logistics.

But now we go the whole way and consider the complete, often global, supply chain. In this regard we deal not only with the physical handling aspects of logistics but also the wider supply chain management issues. Given that worldwide the construction industry is huge and that the materials consumed typically represent anywhere from 40-60 per cent of a project’s value, it is obvious that construction logistics is a big topic. As it has also been found that skilled construction workforce can spend up to 50% of their time on logistics related tasks (and not all of it productive time), it is clear that any significant development of productivity in the construction industry must include a strong focus on logistics and supply chain management.

There are few topics that don’t benefit from being analysed from a number of different perspectives. The study of supply chains is no exception and in construction in particular, with so many stakeholders in active logistics roles, there are many voices that we can benefit from listening to. This is why Supply Chain Management and Logistics in Construction features a range of contributors - academics, main contractors in construction, construction material manufacturers and suppliers, builders merchants, logistics specialists, third party logistics operators, IT specialists/suppliers, sustainability experts and consultants. All have extensive experience in construction but crucially, many also have experience from other sectors allowing them to draw parallels and suggest areas where construction can benefit from a cross-fertilisation of ideas, methods and strategies.

Greger Lundesjo is the editor of Supply Chain Management and Logistics in Construction, published 3rd June.