Efficient Material Handling on the Job

In these days of shrinking profits because jobs are being taken close to the break-even point just for cash flow, every nickel saved can mean the difference between keeping your companys doors open or not. One area frequently overlooked for increases in efficiency is onsite logistics well-planned material handling strategies. Most commercial jobs have a predetermined parking area for job material

In these days of shrinking profits because jobs are being taken close to the break-even point just for cash flow, every nickel saved can mean the difference between keeping your company’s doors open or not. One area frequently overlooked for increases in efficiency is onsite logistics — well-planned material handling strategies.

Most commercial jobs have a predetermined parking area for job material storage trailers. That location is either right beside or reasonably close to the actual footprint of the building. Most of the time this area will serve its purpose just fine, but not always.

If all other contractors must, by contract, share the same storage trailer location that’s off in a corner of the site and there will be only one allowed path to the new building, then traffic jams can occur in the trailer area or on the equipment driveway leading up to the footprint. When you have 10, 20 or even, let’s say, 30 crew members with an average wage of $15 an hour waiting an extra 15 minutes for a load of material to be brought up to the site, then you’ve just spent an extra $122.50 of job budget that wasn’t there to begin with. What are the solutions to that bottleneck?

If space allows, make your pitch in the pre-construction job meetings to spread the various job trailers out where there won’t be traffic jams of heavy equipment. Instead of a single, narrow driveway up to the site, try to get the GC to grade it out at least wide enough for a couple of forklifts to pass for bi-directional traffic. A few loads of crusher run gravel, at least in the low spots, might prevent equipment from getting stuck after heavy rains and your crews stuck up on the footprint twiddling their collective thumbs while being paid by you to do so.

Immediately after being awarded the job, run out to the site and do a quick field survey of existing conditions. If the topography is screwy, if the lot in question isn’t relatively flat and has one or more steep gradients that you’ll have to deal with as men and material flow through the job, sketch out where you think the best place for your job storage trailers would be.

With letters of transmittal attached, put copies of that request in the hands of both the GC and the architect, along with a letter telling them why you want to do this. When you’re fighting for pennies, such professional attention to detail can make or break you.

Store as much material within the footprint of the new building as possible! Material storage trailers should be used to store three type of things: tools; equipment that can be carried off easily or damaged by exposure to the elements; and materials that are targets for thieves, such as copper.

It simply makes sense to store as much material as will be used by your crews inside the work site.

You’re told there’s little or no money in the estimate for equipment rental to maximize mechanic productivity? The first question I would have, assuming I don’t know my company’s entire inventory, is how have other jobs moved the mountain of materials that every job eventually uses? Does your company have old and beat-up lulls and forklifts and flatbed trucks and such that you might not know about? If they do have such a geriatric fleet or even the odd piece or two that your bosses won’t let you use for whatever reason, you really need to press them as to the reasons why not.

If there really wasn’t any money budgeted for material handling equipment rentals, assuming your company is equipment-poor, then use your skills as a project manager and come up with some hard-to-argue-with numbers.

Even if you can’t find man-hour multipliers for material handling in national mechanical labor calculators that are applicable in your situation, then use your experience to develop numbers that will seem reasonable to your bosses. Present them as a proposal to either pay an equipment rental company now or pay my high-dollar crews to do gruntwork later.

There’s no magic in efficient material movement on the job. It’s just a little common sense, a whole lot of pre-planning job visualization, and bit of luck in having GCs and architects who’ll work with you to make the job run as smoothly as possible.

H. Kent Craig is a second-generation mechanical contractor and project manager with unlimited Master’s licenses in boilers, air conditioning, heating and plumbing. He may be reached by calling 919/851-9550 or via e-mail at [email protected].