Better logistics – for cheaper, more sustainable construction

Construction workers who spend almost half their workday waiting for materials – or shifting them around. Pallets that have to be moved repeatedly, because they are in the way of something else. Materials that have to be reordered because no one can find them on the site. These are all examples of poor construction logistics.

Construction site Photo credit: Thor Balkhed

Logistics is the study of how materials and other resources can be controlled, for maximum efficiency. Compared to many other industries, the construction industry has been slow to incorporate this knowledge into its practices. But in 2009 something happens. LiU gets a professorship in construction logistics – Sweden’s, Europe’s and probably the world’s first. The position is financed by a foundation established by Lars Erik Lundberg, a Swedish construction and property magnate.

Professor Martin Rudberg starts to build a research group that will focus on two important and interrelated fields. Firstly, the supply chain to the construction site, ensuring the right things are there at the right time. And secondly, how the work at the site can be organised, for greater cost-efficiency.

As well as delivering cheaper and faster building processes, construction logistics has environmental benefits. Transports can be greatly reduced, resulting in less emissions. And having to discard materials because no one could find them when they were needed is obviously a massive waste of resources, which better processes can put an end to.

So, what does the building industry say? Well, more and more contractors, companies and clients are realising the value of good construction logistics. Lots of local governments are getting behind the idea: they can see that logistics increases efficiency, but also safety, which is important for instance in urban planning work for schools.

The research team at Linköping University has become national leaders in its field, receiving enquiries from a number of organisations. The Swedish universities that are big in construction are keen to involve the team’s members in projects relating to construction logistics. Like the waxing teams that help give cross-country ski teams the tools to excel, the LiU researchers can work as consultants at construction sites, where they can measure, follow up and improve logistics practices.

In time, construction logistics research can give us less expensive housing with shorter production times and better use of resources – important factors that can help us provide affordable, quality housing for everyone.

Photo credit: Thor Balkhed

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