Estimated read time: 4 minutes, 56 seconds
Supply chain issues have affected consumers worldwide for the past two years. In the commercial construction industry, these shortages have affected everything from structural steel to the computer chips used in HVAC systems. Of course, construction material shortages are not the only challenge faced by commercial builders. Rising material costs, labor shortages, and shipping delays can easily throw construction projects off schedule and cause you to go over budget.
Although things may remain volatile for the foreseeable future, implementing these best practices can help you plan for material delays and keep your project timelines on track.
Unpredictability and long material lead times present challenges for construction partners across all industries. Roofing insulation can have a one-week lead time one day, and four weeks the next. Partial shipments are a challenge, too. You might receive a boiler shipment on time, but the computer chip or another part is missing and will be shipped separately.
“Without proper planning, even the smallest of shipping delays can throw your entire schedule off track,” says Travis Cleem, project executive at Mortenson. “Understanding your project sequence and gaining visibility into critical path items helps you create a flow schedule that clearly lays out construction plans and accounts for material delays.”
Digital tracking tools like Jovix help Mortenson’s project teams monitor the location and status of materials in the supply chain, and adjust schedules as needed. For the GEODIS Park project in Nashville, TN, the team used this technology to track 6500 tons of structural steel. Integrating RFID tracking with 4D modeling allowed the team to track not only the status of structural steel in the supply chain, but the placement of steel during construction.
Staying on top of market conditions, material lead times, and construction costs is common practice for Mortenson’s design phase teams, but this attention to detail has become even more critical in recent years.
Analyze market conditions and material shortages during the design phase—before you even get trade partners under contract. Identify which materials are currently the most volatile and which have the longest lead times. Then, you can plan your procurement and construction schedules around potential product delays.
“’Trust but verify’ is critical because of constant fluxes in supply and demand over the past two years,” explains Joanna Slominski, market director at Mortenson. "Our superintendents speak with trade partners weekly to verify which orders were placed and when, and to request updates on lead times." Travis adds, “Sometimes suppliers tell you what you want to hear instead of what you need to hear. Regular check-ins keep you updated on supply changes and hold your trade partners accountable for tracking materials.”
Project team members also spend considerable time reviewing flow schedules, so they can help guide trade partners on the materials needed to keep projects moving. The design phase should include researching which products and materials are currently volatile or have long lead times. Then, you need to prioritize ordering and lock in orders for necessary materials and equipment.
“The old motto was ‘just-in-time delivery,’ but the new motto is ‘hurry up and get it here,’” says Joanna. “When dealing with super volatile materials, the certainty in delivery is worth more than potential price increases or decreases that might come up.”
Shipping delays are predicted to continue causing material delivery issues. Because of this, it’s important to involve the architects and design teams in procurement conversations and understand where they’re sourcing project materials. Are supplies shipping domestically, or is the flooring coming from Italy? When calculating lead times, remember to consider not only shipping distances but factors affecting production at the manufacturing facility.
When the inevitable delays happen, bringing in temporary components can keep things on schedule. “While these situations aren’t incredibly common now, they’re becoming more frequent as delivery times continue to be pushed out,” explains Travis. “Installing temporary components means you’ll need to switch things out again after receiving the parts you originally ordered, but it’s worth it to get your Certificate of Occupancy on time.”
Mortenson’s project team used temporary light fixtures on a recent project for Marvin Windows, allowing the customer to utilize their new space without delay. When the permanent fixtures arrived, the project team installed them during an overnight shift, so as not to disturb the customer’s staff.
“Finding and installing temporary fixtures required extra effort on our end,” says Joanna. “But our creative thinking and planning, along with the flexibility and trust of our customer helped us make it happen.”
While not ideal for all jobs, using factory-assembled walls also saves time over waiting for individual shipments to arrive. Mortenson used factory-assembled wall panels from its sister company, BLUvera, for a student housing project at Augustana University in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The wall panels—delivered complete with sheathing, windows, and air and vapor barriers—resulted in a 40% schedule savings for the project.
“Augustana is a pretty unique project where we discovered new ways to maximize our efficiency and avoid major supply disruptions,” says Joanna. “Now, we can use that knowledge to help us prevent schedule delays on future projects.”
We Set the Standard for Project Success
Mortenson’s forward-thinking, “don’t give up” mentality is what allows us to complete projects on time—even with ongoing construction supply chain issues throwing hurdles in the middle of our path. “There are always ways to think differently,” says Joanna. “You will never have a perfect answer that works for every project. But having experienced, solutions-focused people on each project will help you identify potential concerns in advance and come up with creative solutions."
As a strategic commercial builder, we push the boundaries of what’s possible by driving a culture of innovation. Our Minneapolis construction team’s ingenuity, scalability, and construction management expertise help clients create the spaces they envisioned while reducing time and costs.
Joanna Slominski is a market director focusing on the design phase side of commercial construction projects. She has over 18 years of construction industry experience and is passionate about mentoring and community involvement.
Travis Cleem is a project executive for Mortenson’s commercial construction market. He has over 25 years of construction industry experience and is proud to be part of local projects that help change the lives of people in his community.
What do construction material costs look like across the U.S.?
Mortenson’s Construction Cost Index gives insight into historical construction costs across several geographical areas. Check out our latest report.
Do you have questions about starting your next construction project?
Project planning in a volatile market is especially challenging. Our construction experts help ease your uncertainties with a thorough, structured approach to construction management.