What could be simpler, a drawing is issued to the contractor, the contractor orders materials which are delivered to the project site and the contractor installs them? Yes, it should be simple, but in many cases the process goes wrong, resulting in wasted time, delays to the project, additional costs, and upsets in the relationship with the client.
When there’s a shortage
When ordering materials it’s obvious that the correct quantity should be ordered. Sounds easy, but often projects run short of material which results in problems. For example:
· if the material is imported it may have to be air-freighted at short notice and enormous cost
· the material may not be readily available and take several weeks for the supplier to manufacture the required items
· the material may be no longer manufactured (as may be the case with ceramic tiles), and if the contractor is unable to locate material to match those already installed, they may have to rip these out and replace them with other available material
· ordering small quantities often adds a premium to the procurement and transport
· even if the material is readily available, off-the-shelf from a supplier close to the project, there will be the cost for the contractor’s personnel making a special trip to collect it
· sometimes the materials are being installed by a specialist contractor who is now unable to complete their works, which may then cause them to demobilise from site, resulting in additional costs and possible further delays if they can’t return immediately due to their other commitments
· shortages disrupt the work since workers employed with the task have to be redeployed to another part of the project, returning only when the correct materials are available
· the procurement of the additional materials and organising their transport absorbs a large amount of additional management time
· the delay caused to the project by the shortage of materials makes the contractor appear disorganised and unprofessional
So why do projects frequently experience shortages of materials?
· Often it’s simply caused by the Project Manager, Engineer, or Supervisor incorrectly measuring the quantity from the drawing.
· Sometimes the Designer or Architect has included the quantity on the drawings but they are incorrect and the contractor orders the quantities from this without checking. It’s therefore good practice for contractors to check the quantities provided on a drawing, since if it’s wrong they could be liable for the error.
· No allowance is made for wastage of the material. Items like ceramic tiles or building blocks will generate wastage due to cutting and breakages. An experienced contractor will know what this wastage will be, which often depends on the actual details of where the product is used. Small areas may require detail cutting, which will generate more waste than large, simple areas. Electrical cables are another example since it may not be possible to use the full length of cable because the project specifications or regulations, will not allow the cable to be spliced, leaving all the short bits of cable to be wasted.
· The incorrect conversion factor is used, which often occurs with earthworks materials when the incorrect factor is used for converting the loose material into compacted material. (This factor depends on the type of material and the amount of compaction required.) When material with unfamiliar properties and characteristics is ordered it pays to seek expert advice regarding what wastage or compaction factors should be allowed.
· No allowance is made to lap the material. This is particularly the case with mesh reinforcing, plastic sheeting or roof sheeting. To minimise wastage due to lapping, or splicing of the materials, it’s important to be aware of the standard sizes the material is supplied in. In some cases it may be possible to order materials in different widths and lengths, reducing the number of joints and therefore the amount of lapping.
· Sometimes there is theft on the project, so critical material should always be stored in secure locations.
· Often the material has been incorrectly applied on the project. For instance the product has been applied in thicker layers than those specified, this may happen with paint, asphalt, concrete, joint sealer and adhesives. The Project Manager should monitor the application of specialist products, or products that are used in a large quantity on the project. This will enable timely action to be taken to reduce the thickness and wastage, and if necessary to order more material to make up any shortfall.
· The incorrect quantity could have been delivered. I’ve seen it happen that a project ran out of a material, the Project Manager contacted the supplier and arranged for additional material to be delivered. Shortly thereafter the remaining material from the original order arrived followed by the additional material requested. This results in excess material remaining at the end of the project and causes wasted effort and cost. It’s good practice when an unexpected shortfall occurs, that the reason behind it be investigated before ordering the additional material.
When there’s a surplus
Of course, the opposite can happen too, with a surplus of material left at the end of the project. Almost every project I’ve been involved with has ended up with materials left over. This is a waste of money because:
· the contractor has purchased material which is not required, although sometimes the material can be returned to the supplier for credit, it’s seldom they will refund the full original cost even if the material hasn’t been damaged while in storage or transit, and is still in its original packaging
· there are costs of transporting, offloading and storing the surplus materials
· there are the additional costs to transport and dispose of the surplus material (disposing of the material can be a significant cost which may include tip fees, and, with some chemicals, additional hazardous waste disposal fees)
Why are there often surplus materials left at the end of many projects?
The reasons for having surplus material are:
· similar to the reasons that result in there being a shortage of material
· the client may have changed drawings omitting items after the contractor had already procured them
· the contractor may have accidently omitted the item from the structure
· that it may have been applied in thinner layers than specified
· that it may have been mixed incorrectly
It would be pertinent to investigate the cause of the surplus material since some of the above reasons could have serious consequences for the contractor.
When ordering bulk materials like fuel, cement, concrete aggregates or road materials, nearing the completion of the project it’s prudent to carefully plan deliveries, ensuring there is only a minimal amount of unused material left on the project.
It’s worth spending extra time to ensure you order the correct quantities of materials. Where necessary ask for expert advice to determine the normal wastage factors. This could avoid costly and embarrassing mistakes.
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