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By Julie Crawford, Market Executive
Construction superintendents are exceptionally creative people who pull off amazing feats with project timelines—as long as they have access to the necessary materials. Supply chain shortages and other issues triggered by the 2020 pandemic created a volatile market that continues to this day. The old mantra of ‘just-in-time delivery’ has changed into ‘get it here quickly’ to ensure certainty in planning and scheduling work.
Securing Supplies and Materials in a Volatile Market: A Never-ending Challenge
Anyone working in construction is all too familiar with supplier-issued statements about building material shortages. Supply chain issues have even led some suppliers—for example, concrete and roofing insulation—to implement allotment strategies. These constraints have taken away the predictability of material lead times and affected suppliers’ ability to deliver on contracts and bid on projects.
2020-2022 Factors Contributing to Construction Supply Chain Issues
March 2020 saw a significant reduction in demand as the Covid-19 pandemic began; companies closed factories to protect employees and in response to the reduced demand. As the world rebounded from the initial shutdown, we experienced longer lead times for almost every material as manufacturers and suppliers scrambled to respond to the boom in demand. These supply chain issues were exacerbated by a series of major national and global events occurring in 2021 and 2022:
- Hurricane Ida and the Texas freeze, both occurring in 2021, temporarily affected production and transportation
- Labor volatility in the trucking industry and the Suez Canal event caused significant transportation delays
- Russia's invasion of Ukraine strained supply chains globally, including oil and semiconductors
The impact of these incidents on the commercial construction supply chain leaves everyone wondering, “what’s next?” and worried about meeting their project goals on time.
Current ‘Hot’ Items Affecting Project Schedules
Product and material lead times change frequently and are slowly improving. However, lead times for many items critical to commercial construction remain long and unpredictable.
Supply chain experts have urged businesses to reinvent their supply chain strategies but implementing these strategies successfully can take years. In the meantime, project teams can leverage the lead time information available to develop creative solutions that help keep their construction schedules on track.
Case Study: Fairview Health & Wellness Hub
Fairview’s Community Health and Wellness Hub in St. Paul, MN, provides crucial services to the community: primary and mental health care, senior enrichment, food access programs, and community gathering spaces. Creating this type of space is part of Fairview’s initiative to improve healthcare delivery and equity in communities and remove barriers to wellness.
Our design and construction team were brought onto the project in September 2021. Fairview had a hard deadline for Phase 1 of July 1, 2022—that gave us 10 months to complete the design and remodel, and get the program moved in.
A few years ago, you could reasonably expect to complete renovation projects quickly. However, ongoing supply chain issues made the tight timeline much more challenging. Mortenson has developed best practices to navigate an unpredictable market and implemented many of these actions to meet the July 1 deadline.
- Long-lead materials were identified early in the design process and a plan was created to work around those timelines.
- A detailed flow schedule for procurement activities identified where procurement needed to start before design was scheduled to be completed – and as an integrated team we placed design priority on those items.
- Communicating regularly with our trade partners ensured timely delivery of construction materials and expedited delivery methods were used when the benefit exceeded the cost.
- Flagging discontinued ceramic tile early allowed the design team to select an alternate product before final construction documents were issued.
Staying on top of construction supply chain issues is a continuous battle. However, by identifying potential concerns early and thinking outside the box, you can find effective ways to solve common supply chain challenges.
Utilizing modular and prefabricated solutions is another critical way Mortenson keeps projects on schedule while dealing with a volatile supply chain. This solution, paired with in-house material sourcing of lighting, flooring, and other key finishes, helps us build projects better, smarter, and faster.
Julie Crawford is a market executive at Mortenson, with a focus on healthcare. With 18+ years of experience in the construction industry, she helps customers navigate supply chain challenges, so they can bring their facility visions to life.
Mortenson is a Minneapolis construction company with a proven track record of keeping large-scale projects on schedule despite supply chain challenges. Connect with one of our commercial construction experts to discuss your next project!