As the world experiences increased uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of the construction industry in maintaining a robust civil infrastructure has been heightened. Many strategies that allow contractors and craft workers to thrive in normal socioeconomic conditions are still the cornerstone to maintaining a competitive advantage in the pandemic era. More than ever, companies are focused on creating safe environments for employees, securing jobsites from external threats, and elevating productivity for all levels of their organization.
Establishing a robust asset management strategy strengthens all facets of a construction organization. Asset awareness includes the allocation of site materials, consumables, accessories, equipment, fleet vehicles, and now, including handwashing units. Whether rented, owned, or charged straight to a project, asset management directly impacts the bottom line. Accurately maintaining inventory streamlines spending and decreases waste, which is more important than ever as contractors seek leaner operations.
Providing assets as needed by workers ensures teams are empowered and productive. As construction labor is often one of the highest project costs, confirming that a crew has the right tools and materials in the right place at the right time is paramount to a successful operation.
When strengthening an existing asset management program, examining the current process for material flow is an integral first step. The importance of fundamental techniques such as shifting from a paper-based tracking system to a digital platform cannot be overstated. Increasing visibility through a digital workflow enhances understanding of delays, pain points, and opportunities for improvement. Once a stronger level of transparency is achieved, the following tactics can be applied to substantially optimize asset deployment:
Kitting is a material management strategy designed to create a comprehensive “kit” of supplies for site installation. Kitting reduces project delays, on-site labor costs, and can be accomplished by a third-party vendor or internally leveraged through a warehouse or tool crib. When kitting directly through a supplier like Graybar, costs are reduced while the ease of ordering large quantities of components from multiple sources is improved.
Direct delivery of materials, tools, and equipment to a jobsite streamlines workflow by ensuring that assets arrive at the site at the appropriate time. By utilizing just-in-time delivery services such as RenoRun, materials can be ordered by the pallet to reduce downtime and ensure workers can focus on their primary field work with minimal interruptions.
Equipment rental is often advantageous for high-priced and specialized equipment needed directly for a project. Reduced visibility of inactive rental equipment on a site creates financial risk and can be alleviated with UR Control from United Rentals.
Jobsite security is a paramount concern as COVID-19 leads to more site shutdowns and reduced workforces. Jobsite cameras like those provided by Sensera Systems provide a comprehensive solution for remote site updates when workers are there, complete with real-time alert monitoring. Visual documentation provides opportunities for risk management on a site.
These methods ensure the right supplies are available for workers on active projects. Dedicated asset management systems are also paramount in providing accurate, real-time information to drive critical project decisions. To determine the appropriate workflow for an asset, consider whether it is bought as a reusable corporate asset to return after job completion, charged to a project, rented for a project, or meant to remain on site upon project completion. The solutions listed below support tracking and managing inventory for multiple project components, including site materials, PPE, accessories, equipment, and fleet vehicles:
Material vending machines allow for streamlined point-of-sale access to everything from saw blades to PPE. On-site devices like Fastenal Fast Solutions give workers instant access to consumable materials, allow contractors to monitor specific usage by employee IDs, and are completely supported by a third-party distribution team.
Tool and equipment platforms provide dedicated inventory movement and champion tactical, data-driven decisions to increase productivity and efficacy. The Milwaukee Tool ONE-KEY system is comprised of software and connected hardware devices backed by the industry’s largest tracking network.
Machine security systems provide control over equipment operation based on who can access a machine and when. Integrated into the electronics of heavy-duty equipment, systems like the Caterpillar Machine Security System leverage employee ID information for tool access based on training and compliance.
Fleet management software includes real-time GPS tracking, vehicle performance data, and maintenance information. This allows full visibility into vehicle behavior and lifecycle. Programs like Verizon Connect are instrumental in improving vehicle dispatch, routing, and location awareness.
Proper visibility into asset flow can be greatly assisted by implementing construction technology in the form of hardware, software, and best practices to strengthen inventory processes. As with all efforts that utilize construction technology, considerations must be taken for the priorities of an organization, current solution maturity, and the highest likelihood of return on investment. Above all, asset management must be viewed as a method for providing worker support, supplies, and advocacy. During this uncertain period — and at all times — healthy, safe, and skilled workers are the most valuable output that any construction organization can build.
Tauhira Ali is senior manager of construction technology at Milwaukee Tool.