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Today’s companies continuously strive to redefine what’s possible. Over the years, productivity and efficiencies have improved greatly through technologies such as robotic total stations and BIM. Sometimes, however, solutions aren’t found in the latest technology. That’s where developing a more proactive versus reactive culture on project sites becomes pertinent, and where simple demand planning can drive increased productivity and cost savings.

To get a better understanding of simple demand planning, consider push and pull systems. Many project sites operate in a push system manner, where preconstruction crews and manufacturing teams determine when to push materials to project sites based on original schedules or historical patterns. This can lead to project site overstock and excess inventory, which on project sites equals waste—wasted time due to extra handling of material, housekeeping and safety issues, damage or loss of material, and the cost of carrying inventory.

Companies can take their site logistics to the next level by working on strategies to eliminate inventory waste. This can be accomplished by encouraging project teams to operate in a pull system manner. In this structure, project sites dictate when to pull material orders to the project site, allowing them to account for the time needed to manufacture the product and schedule the just-in-time delivery.

Demand needs to be driven by the customer. Why is this important? The customer is in the best position to plan for what, when and where materials are needed. A pull system produces to the customer demand, resulting in inventory as needed and when needed.

  • What? The right material.
  • When? The right time.
  • Where? The right place.

For example, during the design phase, a construction company will determine the materials needed to build the project (right material). Then the general contractor manages the construction schedule and is able to order those materials for onsite delivery (right place) as needed per each phase of the project (right time). This eliminates the need to handle or store unnecessary materials throughout the construction process.

Once materials are received on the project sites, the next level of planning is to move material to the direct point of install. Taking cues from manufacturing leaders, companies can use a pull system established by a clear demand from the work space—a Kanban system. Kanban (reorder signal) is a simple manual or electronic reorder system that indicates what, when and where materials are needed to support crew members performing value-added work, just in time.

In a manufacturing environment, a pull system is commonly referred to as Lean manufacturing and, in construction, it is commonly referred to as a Last Planner or Lean Construction System. Lean manufacturing has fueled dramatic productivity increases; the construction industry is in the very early stages of learning and executing planning based on pull system techniques. To maximize their success, construction companies must implement a pull system to allow material handlers to effectively support projects, drive productivity and reduce overall costs.

Without effective planning, material handling operates in a reactive mode. This on-call approach for gathering and delivering material can result in wasted waiting time for crews, receiving incorrect material or excessive movement by delivering material using multiple trips. To assist in effectively using logistics support, a 24-hour planner is a valuable tool for project crews. The current best practice of using one- and three-week planners offers a good reference to execute a 24-hour planner for a project’s daily material needs. The 24-hour planner answers the questions of what, when and where materials are needed and allow the logistics team to effectively plan and eliminate waste related to excessive material movement on the project site.

Companies who want to stay ahead of the competition and demonstrate continuous growth, innovation and improvement should consider a pull system in their site logistics planning. Refining and further developing the planning processes are key strategies for moving an organization forward.

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