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Last edited 23 Jul 2021
Material shortage on construction projects
Sometimes the materials needed can be quickly obtained from a nearby store, but even so, work is interrupted, possibly workers stand idle while the material is procured, or the workers must be reorganised to do other work in the meantime. In some cases, the material may not be readily available, and it could take several days to get the missing items. Inevitably there are additional costs and delays that could jeopardise the success of the project.
 Why do projects experience material shortages?
There are many reasons for material shortages, and proper care should help avoid this from occurring.
- Often, it is simply caused by the project manager, engineer, or supervisor incorrectly measuring the quantity from the drawing. They did things in a hurry and did not check. In some cases, project managers make a mistake the other way and order too much material – which is then leftover at the end of the project. It is vital to check that the correct quantities of materials were ordered.
- No allowance is made for offcuts of material which cannot be used. Items like ceramic tiles or building blocks generate wastage when they are cut. Often, lengths of timber, steel, pipe and electrical cables remain when the required sizes have been cut. An experienced contractor will know what this wastage could be, which often depends on the actual details of where the product is used. Planning cutting can reduce waste, allowing the maximum usable pieces to be cut from the available material.
- The incorrect conversion factor is used: this often occurs with earthworks materials when the incorrect factor is used for calculating how much loose material is required to make the compacted volume. (This factor depends on the type of material and the amount of compaction required.) When a material with unfamiliar properties and characteristics is ordered, it pays to seek expert advice regarding what wastage or compaction factors should be allowed.
- No allowance is made to lap the material. This is particularly the case with mesh reinforcing, plastic sheeting or roof sheeting. To minimise wastage due to lapping or splicing of the materials, it is important to be aware of the standard sizes the material is supplied in. In some cases, it may be possible to order materials in different widths and lengths, reducing the number of joints, and therefore the amount of lapping.
- Sometimes there is theft on a project, so critical materials should always be stored in secure locations.
- Workers are careless, and they damage materials while offloading them, when they move them and when they install them. It is important to ensure that materials are not damaged, since not only is this wasteful adding additional costs, but it could result in the project running short of materials.
- Poor quality work results in work having to be redone, which requires extra material.
- The material has been incorrectly applied to the project. For instance, the product has been applied in thicker layers than those specified; this may happen with paint, asphalt, concrete, joint sealer, adhesive and so on. The project manager should monitor the application of specialist products or products that are used in a large quantity. This will enable timely action to be taken to reduce the thickness, thus reducing wastage, and if necessary, then to order more material to make up any shortfall.
- Materials are stored badly, which results in them becoming damaged. Some products are damaged by the sun or when they become wet. Materials that are not stacked properly can become warped and twisted. Vehicles could drive into materials and damage them. Always store materials properly where they will not be easily damaged.
- The incorrect quantity has been delivered.
It is worth spending extra time to ensure the correct quantities of materials are ordered. Where necessary, ask for expert advice to determine the normal wastage factors. Look at different options for cutting and installing materials, as well as various sizes the products are available in. Careful planning and ordering can reduce costs.
Investigate shortages before ordering additional material. The missing items may be lying unnoticed somewhere on the project, or the supplier might not have delivered the material yet. Regrettably, project managers have ordered additional materials to make good shortfalls, only to discover that the missing materials were found or were delivered later – resulting in there being too much material.
Importantly, keep a constant check on the available materials and act when it appears that there may be insufficient amounts. Take timely action to ensure that workers are not left waiting for more materials.
 About this article
This article was written by Paul Netscher, an experienced construction professional who has managed over 120 projects in six countries over 28 years. He writes for the ClockShark blog and is the author of five books on construction project management.
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