Fifty-two weeks. An entire year. That’s how long project teams are having to wait for certain building materials, systems, and equipment in the post-Covid environment. These include critical core-and-shell materials like steel, steel deck, steel joists, and roofing components such as ISO foam board insulation and fasteners. Even readily available “off-the-shelf” products like drywall, metal framing, and paint have lead times. Not to mention near-historic price inflation levels and shipping costs across almost every product category.
Faced with these immense supply chain issues—on top of the ongoing skilled labor shortage—building teams are forced to employ aggressive product procurement tactics to pull off new construction and major reconstruction programs on schedule—and anywhere close to budget. Common strategies include real-time price tracking, product availability analysis during the design and bidding phases, more-optimal project planning (duh!), and sourcing locally, when possible.
Some project teams are looking to eliminate much of the guesswork around product availability and price inflation by employing early bulk-purchasing measures for entire building projects, even multi-build developments. This “buy-and-store” approach to product procurement has worked for several recent healthcare projects led by design and construction giant Haskell, says Denise Muth, Project Director with the firm’s Infrastructure and Transportation group.
“For one hospital project, it was determined to buy the whole project out from the start and utilize local storage leased by the hospital,” says Muth. “On another project, we accelerated roofing, MEP equipment, elevators, and steel to help jumpstart the lead time process while the balance of design is completed. Depending on the stage of design, our owners are encouraged to purchase the entire project as quickly as possible.”
AEC industry consultant Ryan Bosworth, Principal with Rider Levett Bucknall, urges project teams to take advantage of the glut in vacant or derelict retail stores, especially big boxes, to purchase building products in bulk and warehouse them locally. “Landlords are begging for revenue while they reposition properties,” he says, adding that these spaces are relatively inexpensive to rent and require little build-out.
This bulk-purchasing approach, while effective, does have its obstacles, says Muth, including added front-loaded costs for owners/developers, insurance considerations related to storage facilities, and the risk of changes to specifications or design after materials have been ordered and stored.