Material handling can play a major role on some projects often resulting in a bottleneck if it’s not planned correctly. The project may have the right numbers of personnel and equipment, but if the materials can’t get to where they are required, then personnel and equipment will be unproductive and the project will be delayed.
Material management is not only a planning issue, but can also be one of diplomacy, since the Project Manager and Supervisors must juggle the needs of the different teams on the project. Often the various teams and subcontractors can become irate and frustrated due to delays in receiving their materials.
Material handling can be a particular problem on high-rise buildings where items and personnel, including those belonging to subcontractors, must be delivered to elevated locations.
Materials which aren't handled correctly can become damaged, resulting in quality problems and extra costs. The damaged materials also have to be replaced which could cause delays. On some projects the breakages can be enormous resulting in further costs to remove the broken product.
Sometimes when materials aren't handled correctly they can cause safety hazards and I'm sure we have all at some stage witnessed loads breaking free from cranes or slipping off trucks. Often this results in serious injury as well as damage to property.
Of course it is also important to ensure materials aren't contaminated while they are being handled. This may occur when trucks or machine buckets aren't cleaned out properly between different products or when the material is left unprotected or placed directly on the ground or in the mud.
What can we do?
To help handle materials efficiently:
1. ensure there are sufficient people and the right type of equipment to handle them
2. make sure material transport, loading and unloading is organised and managed properly
3. look at ways to assist with loading and offloading, such as getting the supplier to pack and secure the items onto pallets (there may be an additional cost, but it will save time and make handling easier once the item arrives on site)
4. it may be necessary for deliveries to take place after-hours when cranes will be available
5. offload material close to where it is required
6. ensure storage areas are well-planned, organised, neat, with a traffic management system and good access roads
7. plan the project at the start to ensure there will be sufficient cranes and access
8. sometimes just adding an extra operator can mean that the crane can work through lunch hours and longer hours
9. supervisors need to understand the lifting priorities and not hold onto a crane longer than needed
10. think out the box sometimes - many in construction become totally fixated on a crane when there are often other ways of doing the task without a crane, or maybe even pre-assembling sections on the ground and lifting it in one piece
Don't let poor planning and management of the moving and lifting of construction materials cause your to suffer delays and frustrations. If there are delays on your project investigate their reasons and you may well find that personnel are waiting for materials which are slowing down their production. Employing additional resources may be a small additional cost which could save you far more in the long run. Remember no one wants to be waiting for materials. They want them close at hand when they need them, and they certainly don't want them damaged in transit.
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