Configuring transport and logistics activities in construction
Conference contribution, 2016
Increasing the efficiency in construction is a key industrial as well as societal concern. In this paper we focus on one salient category of efficiency improvements; transport and logistics activities. However, these activities cannot be analysed in isolation since they depend on, and set the conditions for, other activities, both at construction sites and up-steams the construction materials' supply chains. While the efficiency in construction is, and has been a general concern for a long time, the growing focus on urban conditions for construction, transport and logistics place new and stronger demands on efficiency - in particular with regard to efficient use of vehicles, road space and site space considering increasingly dense cities.
The aim of the paper is to identify and scrutinise transport and logistics activities in construction and how the ways in which these are configured impact on construction efficiency. The analysis focuses on three levels of analysis; (1) efficiency at the construction site, (2) efficiency in supply chains ending in the building (activity focus), (3) efficiency in the use of resources.
Numerous studies claim that the construction industry suffers from poor performance (e.g. Bankvall et al., 2010; Love et al., 2004; Vrijhoef and Koskela, 2000). Supply chain management, including concepts like partnering and lean construction, has been identified as a mean to improve efficiency, but the recommended integration in construction processes is challenging (Briscoe and Dainty, 2005). Fadiya et al. (2015) argue that linking supply logistics (including activities such as specification, acquisition, transport and delivery of materials to the site), and site logistics (including physical flow planning and organizing on the site) is key. Similarly, Ying et al., (2014: 262) claim that efficiency and effectiveness of a construction project “heavily depends on coordination of the on-site and external logistics”. Hence, how the conditions for efficiency at the construction site interrelate with efficient supply chains ‘ending up’ at the site need to be further scrutinized with a focus on the configuring of transport and logistics activities, including how they interrelate with other activities on-site and off-site. Such scrutiny must take, not only the serial coordination of activities in to account as the SCM principles tends to highlight, but also the interdependence between a range of various supply chains to each and at every construction site (Bankvall et al., 2010). Moreover, conditions for activity configuring are closely intertwined with the reasoning for efficient use of resources. ‘Lean thinking’ addresses resources with an emphasis on rationalization, hence, the main objective is to lower the total amount of resources (Cooper et al., 1997). However, such thinking only covers one aspect of change to improve efficiency. Considering resource heterogeneity, i.e. the value of a resource depends on how it is combined with other resources (Alchian and Demsetz, 1972), resource development is to a large extent about how to use existing resources in novel ways, for instance, by exploiting unused features or providing new resource combinations (Gadde et al., 2002). Directing more attention to resource utilization can advance the understanding of activity configuration patterns. In addition, taking into account the various actors’ perspectives add to the perception of how different logics may be balanced (Bygballe and Jahre, 2009).
We elaborate on three principal configurations of transport and logistics activities in relation to construction projects;
· The bilateral configuration wherein each material supplier delivers to the site, and the site logistics is coordinated within the construction project.
· The site focused configuration wherein the transport activities to, and the logistics activities on, the site are subject to coordination.
· The supply network coordinated configuration wherein the supply to and at the site, including all transport and logistics activities, are subject to coordination.
The three configurations are featured by different scopes of coordination and thus also of different conditions to handle interfaces and interdependencies with other resources and activities. In addition, the configurations address the actor dimension and the issue of division of labour in construction.
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