Building and Construction Industry Face Supply Chain Disruptions, but There Is Hope

Georgia Institute of Technology

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 Pishad-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 challenges of production of materials to the supply chain and receiving materials 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, Pishad 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? Pishad has a few solutions to manage the supply chain while also adhering to timeline demands.

Plan new delivery methods for materials.

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, Pishad says.

“It’s more important than ever to think about alternative delivery approaches that encourage early participation of contractors, subcontractors, and major suppliers to be on board and collaboratively come up with alternative solutions,” Pishad explains. “That is the ideal scenario.”

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 keep projects on time, Pishad says. Such a shift will require greater innovation in materials, detailed documentation of materials ,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 this constraint,” Pishad says.

Alternative materials have proven to be sustainable for commercial builds. Pishad 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.

Collaboration is key.

Part of the problem is a lack of collaboration among key entities in a project build, Pishad says. The result leads to panic buying of unnecessary materials and stress on the supply chain.

“The need for 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. If all entities are on board early and if they’re collaboratively exploring innovative, more sustainable ideas, then they can 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.

Pardis Pishad-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. Pishad’s research centers on innovative integrated strategies for sustainably creating and operating smart-built environments.

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