Managing supplies for large-scale building projects is complex – and even small delays can have financial ramifications – but the use of next-generation logistics can help prevent these problems, explains Honeywell’s Justine Clark
LARGE building projects, such as the regeneration of Liverpool housing, can create complex management and logistics problems.
Even well-run developments can experience stock issues and administrative errors, such is the complexity of the modern supply chain. Fortunately, there is growing awareness that next-generation technologies can streamline the logistics process, reduce holdups, better manage stock inventories and enhance overall productivity.
Taken together, these benefits can help guarantee projects come in on time and on budget.
At the heart of any major building project is the need to ensure that materials are where they’re needed, when they’re needed, in the quantities required. The current housing crisis is putting pressure on public housing to be built quickly with the materials readily available.
Loss-prevention measures also need to be in place to ensure they run as efficiently as possible. According to Allianz, tool theft is on the rise, with an increase of more than 60% from 2014/15 to 2016/17.
Traditional paper-based systems for warehouses and distribution centres no longer offer the agility required in a modern just-in-time environment; even minor deferrals and delays can add cost and reduce efficiency so good response times are essential. Fortunately, the latest generation of digital logistics tools provide the insights required to ensure accurate stock management.
Modern warehouse management infrastructure is based on the consistent use of real-time data, which enables developers to manage activities such as orders, deliveries, receipts and the movement of goods from the warehouse to building site with overall precision and transparency.
It can also free up staff from low-value, laborious stock-related tasks, ensuring that their time is used more efficiently. By combining hardware readers with next-generation data handling and analytics, it is possible to not only avoid under- and over-stocking, it is also possible to ensure that faster moving products required for specific projects are correctly positioned for ease of access and picking.
Optimising warehouse space
At the heart of this type of system is conventional barcoding and handheld scanners, combined with big data analytics and Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity, which together provide ever greater levels of stock traceability, visibility and accuracy.
Moreover, this approach can help facilitate future planning for projects if predictive algorithms and AI are incorporated into the system. It is now possible to anticipate demand and balance inventory, which in turn can help improve the use of warehouse space as well as keep the project on budget.
However, it’s not just in the warehouse where this approach pays dividends. Big data analytics is equally as effective out on the road, managing fleet movements and on construction sites. By gaining insights into what quantities of materials are available at various project locations it is possible to optimise deliveries and routes to minimise both journey times and fuel consumption.
Being able to carefully plan trips and monitor the position of individual lorries and trucks can also help guarantee that any last-minute delays can be incorporated into day-to-day planning. This helps to ensure that building sites don’t run out of stock, which in turn leaves staff idle, adds costs and produces potential overruns.
Equally, sites won’t want to hold excessive quantities of materials as this can cause storage issues and increases the likelihood of theft. Once again, a fully featured digital ordering system will be able to automatically monitor and manage supplies for specific locations in a cost-effective manner.
Creating a digital ecosystem
For these systems to deliver optimum benefits it is important that they are secure, scalable, easy to deploy, intuitive and reliable.
By choosing the most appropriate software, in combination with the best hardware, it is possible to create a warehouse environment that integrates seamlessly into the wider project environment. The resulting levels of visibility can help identify issues before they create complications – such as supply problems – which, in turn, can help drive down costs. It is also possible to analyse the data in ways that can reveal recurrent problems that might indicate underlying issues.
The specialist skills and knowledge required to build these types of digital ecosystems are often not immediately available with a project. That’s why logistics personnel and project managers should work with suppliers with a proven track record of successfully implementing these types of systems. This not only ensures success now – it will also help build out the technology when new developments are launched.
Increasing overall efficiency
Modern inventory and warehouse management systems provide improved visibility of stock holdings that can to help manage costs by increasing the overall efficiency of large building projects.
Users benefit from optimised warehouse utilisation, leaner inventories and accurate, timely deliveries. Taken together this can help ensure the availability of materials on-site, preventing supply-related delays.
Bringing large construction projects in on time and on budget requires sophisticated planning. First-class logistics are an essential part of this process, helping contractors remain competitive in an increasingly competitive landscape.
Justine Clark is industry marketing manager for transport and logistics at Honeywell