How We’re Handling the Supply Chain Woes

Unprecedented. How many times have we heard that description over the past year and a half?  Many of our current challenges in the construction industry and in the country are simply unprecedented. Whether referring to the flotillas of container ships off the California coast, construction material escalation, supply chain gaps or wildfires, it is simply unprecedented.

By this time, nearly every industry has begun to experience some kind of disruption in service, product or materials. One of the first industries to be hard-hit was the construction industry, with difficulties procuring lumber, steel and other materials necessary for building. Couple that with the increased demand for construction projects as companies relocate and expand in the commercial sector, and the demand for affordable housing skyrockets in the residential sector, and you have a serious challenge.

Creative solutions and modification of long-standing processes are required for a construction company to effectively operate in this environment. There is no one answer or single solution, like most things it takes a combination of approaches, innovation, and well-executed project management to not only survive but thrive in this new reality.

Unique Building Solutions
One benefit of the new precedent that has been set is it fosters an environment where previously impractical alternatives now become viable solutions.  When bar joist lead times are longer than the overall construction duration of the project, the solution in some circumstances may be to simply not use them. Miles Construction is using Space Frame systems and Box Purlin systems as alternative roof structures to simply remove bar joists from the equation. Other examples include using available hot formed structural steel members in lieu of pre-engineered steel components which currently have over a 30-week lead time. Many are exploring the environmentally friendly alternative of heavy timber construction and other creative solutions and applications.  The lead times and the high cost of standard building components has opened the industry to new systems and creative usage of what few materials are available.

A New Timeline
There is of course the most obvious solution, if it takes longer to get material, simply order the material sooner.  For this approach to have a meaningful impact it must be taken to the extreme. Typically, construction drawings are complete, financing is in hand, contracts are executed and the entitlement process well under way before material orders are placed. The current lead times are simply too great to follow this model. At Miles Construction we work with the owner, lender and design team to order major components such as the pre-engineered steel building and roof systems at the completion of the schematic design phase (the first of three phases of design). This approach certainly increases risk and creates additional variables to manage but it is what must be done to maintain timelines and completion dates.

Let us not forget where the rubber meets the road, the physical construction of these buildings. Typically, the slab would be poured followed by the construction of the building. Given the shortages of Portland Cement, there has been an allotment, or maximum yardage per pour, which has significantly increased the timeline for pouring the slab. When building type allows, Miles Construction removes the shortage of concrete from the equation by focusing concrete pours on footings and other structural elements that allow the envelope construction to proceed. The slab is placed after roof and walls are in place or in progress.

The Silver Lining
Although extremely challenging, current construction environment has ushered in one of the most creative chapters that the construction industry has experienced. By applying innovative solutions and reinventing long standing processes, solutions have come to light. Companies and individuals that embrace the benefits and opportunities of this environment will not only endure but flourish.

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