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  • Strategic Program Management LLC
Procurement and Supply Chain
March 23, 2021
Key Points
Logistics may be thought of as the “management of inventory at motion and at rest.”
Logistics in many ways represents the “connecting arrows” along the entirety of the supply chain.
Elements of logistics management include:
o Resource assessments
o Lead times
o Supply and demand management
o Sourcing and procurement
o Packaging, shipment protection, labeling, and tracking
o Inventories
o Transport
o Consolidation centers, warehouses, and laydown areas
o Site-based logistics
o Waste management
Construction sites include the final facility site as well as intermediate fabrication, preassembly, or
module yards.
Other logistic flows of growing importance include information, finance, and risk.
Major industrial players are increasingly emphasizing the putting in place of modern supply chains,
managed by so-called control towers that deploy elements of artificial intelligence (AI). Efforts to
modernize supply chain management recently have been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic and
the resulting and sudden reconfigurations of supply chains globally. Supply chain challenges have been
further aggravated by emerging trade policies from nations around the world.
This Executive Insight looks only at one element of the supply chain: logistics. It does so from a
procurement and construction perspective.
What is Logistics?
Logistics may be thought of as the “management of inventory at motion and at rest.” Within a
construction context, logistics relates to the planning, procurement, transport, delivery, inventory
management, and staging of resources for a construction site. As discussed later, logistics as a minimum
relates to the movement of labor, equipment, and materials, which all are driven by construction site
demands and that are constrained by supply chain capacity and the efficiency and effectiveness of
logistical flows.
Logistics in many ways represents the “connecting arrows” along the entirety of the supply chain.
What are the Elements of Logistics Management?
The primary elements for logistics management include:
o Resource assessments
o Lead times
o Supply and demand management
o Sourcing and procurement
o Packaging, shipment protection, labeling, and tracking
o Inventories
o Transport
o Consolidation centers, warehouses, and laydown areas
o Site-based logistics
o Waste management
Each of these will be discussed in the following paragraphs.
Logistic management efforts must begin with basic resource assessments. This is true for large scale
projects, but equally true in industries or regions experiencing high demand for construction materials.
Resource assessments often are seen in peak markets, where global demand for steel is constrained as
much by mining rates for iron ore as it is by steel mill capacity. Also, projects in remote locations are
required to assess local, even national, labor and skill shortages. The result may mean moving labor and
certain skill sets from other countries to the new construction sites.
Some projects of scale have been required the logistical task of operating substantial bus operations to
move up to 100,000 workers a day to and from the construction site. On-site bus operations for routine
movement of some staff also are common at many large sites.
High quality labor market assessments are another element of resource assessment for logistics
management. One emerging example is worth noting. Market conditions in the U.S. have made the
prospect of multiple offshore wind turbine farms entering construction simultaneously a real prospect.
A key equipment resource will be the necessary offshore vessels for turbine erection. U.S. law,
specifically the Jones Act that focuses on issues related to maritime commerce, requires these vessels to
be U.S. flagged as well as U.S. manufactured. Today those vessels do not exist in the quantities the
market requires.
Lead times are a second element of effective logistics management and require a continuous up-to-date
assessment for acquiring, producing, and transporting the various resources that a project requires.
Lead times for labor acquisition and provision to the site must consider recruitment and training
periods; time allowances for relocation, including any construction camp resources that must be put
into place; and time to obtain any required passports and visas.
Construction material lead times will be influenced by overall market demand and queuing times for mill
or fabrication capacity. Additionally, local shortages of sand, aggregate, or concrete may require
material importation to the construction site or a nearby staging area. Similarly, temporary batch plants
or quarry facilities may be needed, thus impacting lead times for even the most basic materials.
Equipment lead times, such as mentioned previously regarding specialized offshore wind turbines, also
may involve shop capacities, especially for heavy mechanical and electrical components. Such
components may largely determine equipment lead times, which must be reflected in the overall
project logistical chain.
A third element of logistics management relates to supply and demand management. This is one area
where today’s modern supply chain control towers are showing good results across several industries
even though lagging in construction
. Supply management may be better described as awareness of the
dynamic behaviors and trajectories of the various elements of supply the project requires. Sourcing
decisions must reflect supplier-specific lead times, capacities, and associated logistical times and costs
for ultimate delivery to the site. Demand management requires interaction with construction planning
to ensure project demand. The timing of those demands must meet the supply chain and its inherent
logistical realities. This may necessitate a resequencing of certain construction activities, previously
planned in an unconstrained environment, to reflect the very real imbalances that may exist between
supply and demand.
Logistics management is an integral part of sourcing and procurement of labor, materials, and
equipment. Logistical factors including cost and time must be part of any sourcing evaluations and final
procurement decisions. Logistics management requires a high degree of granularity around supplier
schedules as well as that of key sub-suppliers and subcontractors. Supply chain control towers are
focused on achieving this visibility, but more traditional methods still allow focus on critical items of
supply (major equipment; large bore and special piping) and major commodity categories such as
concrete and steel.
Logistics management requires granular input into packaging, shipment protection, labeling, and
tracking capabilities. For example, for major equipment for which requisite spares have been identified,
should these be shipped with the principal equipment or separately? Should components be labeled
with barcodes or RFID tags? Should written documentation related to installation be included with
shipped components, mapping them to site installation needs?
One aspect of packaging that is often underserved is its impact on the waste stream. Mixed waste
packaging (steel bands, plastics, and cellulose materials such as wood or cardboard) is more likely to end
up in a rubbish heap when contrasted to single material packaging (all cellulose, for example). Similarly,
structural aspects of prefab assemblies or modules are often strengthened with temporary steel to
COVID-19 has exposed many problems due to rapid shifts in demand and lack of buffers due to inventory
address transport load. This steel needs to be removed at site. It then usually ends up in the waste
stream. An alternative would be to design the assemblies or modules to eliminate this extra packaging
component so it can be removed from the construction site waste steam.
Inventories may be stored at or obtained from multiple locations throughout the logistics chain. An
important question to be addressed is: where is the most desirable point in the logistics chain for such
inventories? Just-in-time supply chains have relied on vendors maintaining inventories to meet both the
projects needs as well as that of other customers. In the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry has
witnessed the vulnerabilities of over-reliance on suppliers as a single point of inventories. Similar
impacts are noted when major adverse weather events occur. Inventories may also be held at
consolidation centers and off-site warehouses as well as on-site warehouses and laydown areas.
Inventories act as buffers against risks (such as accelerations, late deliveries, necessary resequencing,
and others) and the inventory strategy is important to think out on a complex project.
Irrespective of where inventories may be held, transport to and from these intermediate or endpoints is
a major element of logistics management. Transport along the logistics chain may require a combination
o Ocean transport
o Special marine vessel transport
o Barge transport
o Air transport
o Rail transport
o Highway and off-road vehicular transport
o Self-propelled modular transporter (SPMT) or other specialized transport
In addition to these various forms of horizontal transport, vertical transport will most likely be required.
These can include marine shipping cranes and crane loading of rail and road vehicles.
Packaging of items in transport may include bulk and containerized cargo as well as shipping of large-
scale modules.
Transport considerations must reflect the different modes through which the item of supply will transit;
weight and dimensional limitations at each stage; any special environmental considerations along the
transport link (marine environment; excessive heat or dust); and whether the transport packages
represent singular items of supply or a consolidated shipment. The consolidation of shipments is a key
consideration, where one is paying for shipping volumes (within weight limits), such as seen in a marine
container or truckload, and in physically constrained links along the supply chain (port or railroad
capacity limitations; last-mile delivery truck and driver constraints; and physical access limitations to the
Capacities and locations of any consolidation centers, warehouses, and laydown areas are key logistics
considerations. Effectiveness and efficiency of each of the points along the logistics chain is influenced
by the thoroughness of planning that has taken place; continuous awareness of the overall supply chain
condition and trends; predictable demand management (execution of project per plan); and technology
enabled inventory tracking (bar codes; RFID; and inventory management systems, including AI enabled
inventory management).
Site-based logistics management may include various activities, including storage and dispatch of bulk
materials and handling of material, equipment, and tool flows from warehouses and laydown areas to
various construction work fronts and crews. Measurement, logging, and tracking of these flows are
important for quality, safety, and inventory management. Site-based logistics management also requires
provision, maintenance, and fueling of on-site vehicles as well as management and maintenance of
logistics-related plant equipment and tools. Worth noting are the huge energy requirements, both fuel
and electrical, of construction sites. Large projects, especially those in more remote environments,
require special attention to fuel movements (truck or pipeline) and on-site storage (how many days of
fuel). Similarly, large projects with multiple diesel generators may benefit from the fuel savings that
come through use of a microgrid sharing this distributed resource. Increased focus on carbon may
influence fleet composition and sources of energy for construction.
Water and wastewater flows along the logistics chain often do not receive adequate logistics attention.
Some sites may require potable water to be trucked in and in some instances non-potable water may be
needed for dust suppression. Depending on the particular circumstance, the logistics of water may
prove to be especially challenging.
Waste management is another important link along the logistics chain. Up to 25 percent of materials
arriving at a site leave the site as waste. Logistics management has a key role in influencing designs that
minimize waste materials (temporary steel, for example). Additionally, waste stream flows can add to
congestion in an already constrained logistics chain. Increasing environmental, social, and governance
Construction Consolidation Center:
A distribution center supporting project logistics by channeling material deliveries
to one or more project sites (intermediate and final). It facilitates load
consolidation, relieving logistical pressures on constrained sites and supporting
just in time delivery. This latter consideration is essential on highly congested
sites, sites co-located with operating facilities, and congested urban areas with
One example is the Heathrow Consolidation Center (HCC), established in 2001, to
support work at Heathrow Airport.
Advantages include significant reductions of freight traffic to the site; increased
workforce productivity; waste and carbon emission reductions; and improved
sequencing of materials to the site.
(ESG) considerations, especially around net zero carbon (achieving carbon neutrality or net-zero carbon
dioxide emissions), can be well served by attention in waste management.
Additional Considerations
Traditionally, a construction site is defined as that location where a final delivered facility is being
built. While still true today, the definition must be broadened to reflect changes in the construction
process. Now a site also includes off-site fabrication and preassembly facilities as well as module yards.
Recognition of the multiplicity of intermediate and final sites is important as they further complicate
overall logistics management. What materials must be delivered where and when? Consider a situation
where a degree of preassembly is to happen off-site, but because of supply delays, the assembly must
now occur at the final site location. The entire logistics chain around this activity and item of supply
must change.
Other Flows along the Logistics Chain
So far, flows related to labor, materials, and equipment have been highlighted. Other flows, however,
are important in logistics management. These include information, finance, and risk.
Information can be thought of as the lubricant of a smooth running, efficient, and effective supply chain
of which the logistics chain is a binding element. AI-enabled supply chain control towers seek to
integrate all elements of the supply chain, gleaming deeper insights from dynamic information flows.
Information flows take on a deeper and extended importance when considering their resulting
extensions of the traditional supply chain into the realm of on-site logistics.
Finance represents a second lubricating element in an efficient and effective supply chain. Positive cash
flow is happiness, not just for the construction contractor but also for the various suppliers of materials
and equipment supporting the project. Logistics contracts need to be well designed, especially with
respect to payment and pain points. Decisions on when a supplier has met its obligations must be
carefully considered. Is it freight on board (FOB) or drop shipment at site? What are the provisions for
acceptance and how do they relate to payment? What flexibility is provided for in delaying receipt
within a window (to address inventory or construction progress concerns) or diverting shipment to the
final site versus a previously selected intermediate fabrication or consolidation site.
Logistical risk flows need to be separately considered and tracked. Logistical flows represent a coupling
mechanism across various project execution streams. In effect, they provide the potential for a high
degree of constraint coupling. Consider the impacts of a general labor strike on a key element of a
supply chain. Consider as well a trade embargo that has an impact on a prominent offshore sourcing
country. As supply moves through the logistical chain toward the construction site, logistical risks should
be expected to be reduced over time. While generally true, deteriorating conditions at key points in the
logistics chain can simultaneously contribute to increased logistics risks going forward.
In many ways construction is about the management of risk. It also very much about the management of
logistical flows.
In this Executive Insight various links in logistics management and the importance of each have been
presented. Each link has been highlighted with regard to its individual importance. In the process both
the responsibilities for a project’s logistic management function and the duties of the logistical manager
(planning; programming; mobilization of logistics chain and site logistic facilities; management of key
portions of the supply chain; and inventory and delivery management) have been discussed.
This Insight also draws attention to some key flows beyond labor, materials, and equipment. These
include information, finance, and risk flows.
Effective logistics management opens the door to project cost savings, improved productivity, waste
reduction, improved site safety (as the site is decluttered), and higher confidence in timely project
About the Author
Bob Prieto was elected to the National Academy of Construction in 2011. He is a senior executive who is
effective in shaping and executing business strategy and a recognized leader within the infrastructure,
engineering, and construction industries.
Although the author and NAC have made every effort to ensure accuracy and completeness of the advice or
information presented within, NAC and the author assume no responsibility for any errors, inaccuracies,
omissions or inconsistencies it may contain, or for any results obtained from the use of this information. The
information is provided on an “as is” basis with no guarantees of completeness, accuracy, usefulness, or
timeliness, and without any warranties of any kind whatsoever, express or implied. Reliance on any
information provided by NAC or the author is solely at your own risk.
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