Material management is essential in the construction industry. Without an effective material management system, productivity levels decline, and projects are disrupted. On average, materials account for 50%-60% of costs in construction project budgets, which makes managing materials key to improving efficiencies and meeting time, cost, and quality performance objectives.

Researchers Ryan Heaton, Hector Martin, Aaron Chadee, Amrita Milling, Sian Dunne, and Fiona Borthwick wanted to understand supply chain failures because construction projects can be vulnerable to upstream supply chain inadequacies. The authors examined the sources of material handling problems and developed solutions for design-build projects to improve supply chain and production efficiencies. Their study, “The Construction Materials Conundrum: Practical Solutions to Address Integrated Supply Chain Complexities” in the Journal of Construction Engineering and Management outlines the overarching issues for stakeholders to consider and provides suggestions for improving onsite material handling. Learn more about their research at The abstract is below.


As projects evolve into complex and specialized temporary initiatives, accountability shortfalls in material flow are a major reason for schedule and cost overruns in construction. To date, researchers and practitioners are unresolved regarding the causes of material handling challenges and eminent solutions to improve material flow accountability. Consequently, inefficient supply chain management practices persist, leading to ineffective handling methods. This research, therefore, focused on identifying critical material challenges encountered by contractors and presented solutions to alleviate schedule and cost overrun failures. The fuzzy Delphi approach was used to refine opinions and achieve group consensus from 15 specialists on the ranking of material handling problems and potential solutions associated with design-build projects. The research revealed that complexity, material flow, and lack of information sharing are the top three main causes of onsite material problems. Potential solutions identified were a faster response mechanism (as an alternative to a slower build schedule), increasing material handlers’ worker power, subcontractors’ involvement in the procurement process, and prefabrication. The research highlighted subcontracting as a material handling paradox as apart from being a solution, it creates non-value-added costs in the supply chain and often inappropriately transfers risk. The findings showcased the potential to improve onsite material handling praxis by considering decision-making uncertainties in material flow and recognizing the importance of procurement methods in construction supply chain solutions in resolving scheduling and cost inefficiencies. 

Read the paper in full in the ASCE Library: