Last edited 03 Aug 2017

How to manage construction plant


The term ‘plant’ refers to machinery, equipment or apparatus used for an industrial activity. Typically, in construction, ‘plant’ refers to heavy machinery and equipment used during construction works.

Many construction companies fail to manage plant efficiently, despite it representing one of the biggest costs. Companies may have vehicles which are quite old and are therefore less reliable and more costly to maintain. There may also only be a certain number of vehicles available for a company to use across multiple projects, and when facing tight deadlines, the availability of the necessary vehicles at the right time can supersede the cost of accessing them.

Construction plant is generally re-useable, and so, as well as being purchased new, it may be purchased second hand or hired. Rented vehicles tend to be newer, and so better maintained, more reliable, and equipped with more up-to-date security features. By renting plant, companies are able to scale up or down their fleet size relatively flexibly and without additional cost.

For more information, see Plant acquisition.

Accounting software for construction management often features plant management modules. This can enable plant to be assigned efficiently, by listing plant and their relevant details, including availability. Relevant staff are then able to determine the availability of plant at any given time. This is particularly useful for larger companies who may have several projects in progress simultaneously and need to be able to maximise their fleet’s utility.

By using such software to manage plant, it is also possible to monitor variable and fixed costs associated with insurance, storage and operation, as well as depreciation. Visibility of the actual costs of each contract can be increased and easier to understand if plant costs are automatically associated with the relevant contract in the accounts system. Rising costs are also easier to detect and monitor, and can help a company make informed decisions about managing the fleet, i.e. replacing an older vehicle that has had large repair bills.

It is a legal requirement that all plant be effectively and safely maintained, as well as being beneficial in terms of reducing costs. Management of plant involves identifying hazards for each item and having a plan for how they can be avoided through maintenance and regular inspections.

Accounting software can assist with highlighting the most appropriate time, i.e. during downtime, that an item of plant could undergo maintenance. This is useful in terms of forward planning of projects that may need to use the item on-site, and scheduling specialist contractors that may be required for maintenance purposes.

Increasingly, construction companies have been exploring the opportunities of the Internet of Things (IoT) for plant management. For example, Caterpillar have begun manufacturing plant items with sensors and other connected devices, with the aim being completely digitised and data-driven fleets.

Some of the plant management benefits of using IoT include:

  • Accurate measurement of engine load, fluid temperature and pressure, idle time, fuel consumption, etc.
  • Can identify operators who may be using plant incorrectly and requires retraining, e.g. using excessive fuel.
  • Generated data relating to machine performance and efficiency, allowing managers to reduce energy consumption and increase productivity.
  • More accurate picture of when and how plant is used around a work site.
  • Greater predictability of when the plant is likely to require maintenance.
  • Plant performance can be tracked in real time, highlighting areas not running to full capabilities.
  • Plant can be tracked, helping to prevent theft and misuse.
  • Alerts relating to location of certain plant can be sent to workers on-site, increasing safety.
  • Plant may automatically order replacement parts as and when required.
  • Accurate monitoring of site noise and vibration compliance.

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