Over the past year and a half, the pandemic has wreaked havoc on supply chains across the globe. In the construction sector, building materials are in short supply and have seen price spikes, driving up project and rebuilding costs and affecting companies ranging from contractors to insurers.
“It’s a snowball effect,” explains Pardis Pishdad-Bozorgi, associate professor in the School of Building Construction and director of the Smart Built Environment Eco-System (Smart Bees) Laboratory at Georgia Tech.
“Like any other industry, we are facing supply chain challenges related to production of materials and receiving them on time for projects due to the pandemic.”
Supply shortages stem from a series of supply chain disruptions hitting industries around the world this year, from port congestion in Asia and the U.S. to labor shortages at factories, Pishdad explains. Weather conditions in the U.S. have also slowed production of some building materials, while semiconductor shortfalls have made appliances harder to secure. If there aren’t workers available to make products or make sure they ship, but the demand for those products continues to rise, that raises the cost, which contributes to price inflation for consumers and businesses.
How can companies overcome this disruption? Pishdad has a few solutions to manage the supply chain while also adhering to timeline demands.
Use innovative and alterative delivery methods and engage in intensified early planning
The time it takes to acquire materials such as glass and steel has stretched from weeks to months, forcing contractors to delay construction deadlines. Uncertainty about the availability of materials is complicating business for construction companies as they try to price out bids and meet project guidelines. Ordering necessary supplies with ample lead time for delivery before their use in projects will help with mitigating the risk of having to overpay and delay projects, Pishdad says.
“It’s more important than ever to think about alternative delivery approaches that encourage early participation of contractors, subcontractors, and major suppliers on board during the design and engineering phase to collaboratively come up with alternative solutions,” Pishdad explains. “That is the ideal scenario.”
Collaboration and construction-driven design is key.
Part of the problem is a lack of collaboration among key entities, especially in a typical design-bid-build project, Pishdad says. Lack of understanding of the availability of materials or their long lead times during the design phase can lead to significant project delay and budget overrun. Due to panic some contractors buy unnecessary materials and stock them and that adds further stress on the supply chain.
“The need for construction-driven design and integration of supply chain participants is more important than ever. The knowledge that each of these entities has can benefit the project in terms of cost, schedule, and productivity,” she says. Alterative project delivery methods like Integrated Project Delivery (IPD), Design-Build (DB), and Construction Management at Risk are better choices of delivery methods. As they involve key builders on board early in the design and engineering phase. Through collaboration, the designers and builders could explore innovative, more sustainable ideas to overcome this current challenge. As a result, decisions on alternative materials and delivery methods can be addressed early on and implementation can be carried out smoothly, ending in a timely, successful build.
Use alternative materials when you can.
Because of the disruption to supply chains, materials such as steel and bar joists — zigzagging metal trusses in ceiling and floor support systems often used in large structures like warehouses — are in short supply due to Covid-19-related stoppages in supplier factories, thus making it more expensive to acquire. Although alternative materials at times may be expensive, their availability is greater and will help with keeping projects on time, Pishdad says. Such a shift will require greater innovation in materials, detailed documentation ,and a new mindset among all stakeholders.
“We may have used certain products just because we always used them, but when it comes down to multidisciplinary team brainstorming on other alternatives, the industry can explore and find solutions that may work that they may not have experienced before if it were not because of these constraints,” Pishdad says.
Alternative materials have proven to be sustainable in some cases. Pishdad points to Georgia Tech’s Kendeda Building as an example. It has earned Living Building Challenge certification, the world’s most ambitious and holistic green building achievement. The building incorporates wood from sustainably managed forests, salvaged materials, and other sourcing strategies, significantly reducing its embodied carbon emissions. By eliminating 99% of its construction waste and incorporating reclaimed, locally sourced materials such as reclaimed wood for the structural decking and salvaged slate tile in the restrooms, the project diverted more waste from the landfill than it sent to the landfill.
Pardis Pishdad-Bozorgi is one of Georgia Tech’s experts on building construction. She is the director of the Smart Built Environment Eco-System Laboratory, which carries out research at the nexus of the cyber, physical, and behavioral systems. Pishdad’s research centers on innovative integrated strategies for sustainably creating and operating smart-built environments. Dr. Pishdad also serves as the Academic Advisor to the Construction Industry Institute (CII) Supply Chain Management Community of Business Advancement.