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6 Superintendent Tactics for Managing Materials

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Superintendents deal with a lot of materials. Even though subs order and maintain their own job stocks, the superintendent must often handle the logistics of material movement and storage. Plus, as the GC’s rep, the super also deals with their own company’s materials.

Here are 6 tips for taming material madness.

1. Delegate It

If your company is doing most of the building, and hiring very few subcontractors, consider assigning someone to help with materials management. For example, you could assign foremen to manage the materials used for their activities. This can reduce the distractions coming your way from foremen who are out of materials or are running into material issues. It also creates a single point of accountability for the materials scheduled for each activity.

In other instances, you might assign a dedicated person to oversee the material handling for a given phase of the project. That person would take care of the materials details you assign. On some jobs that might be the entire material cycle, while on others it could mean the person will handle the material aspects from delivery to activity.

When you delegate you have to train. Don't assume the person assigned to handle materials understands all of the ins and outs of the job. Go over all the details from start to finish, provide time for questions, and plan on doing an assessment on how well the person understood the details. Then, be sure to follow-up to see how they are doing a short time after they begin.

2. Code It

There is technology today that can take a large load off your shoulders while making material management better. It is possible to have a barcode system that accounts for materials from the time they enter the jobsite until they're consumed. If you work with suppliers, you could even have bar code coverage starting at the source. It used to be that barcode material handling was complicated by the need to use barcode readers. But today, most smart phones will work.

You can also find numerous tech offerings that will take your materials management efforts to new heights. They use barcode, radio frequency identification, and global positioning to make the material journey highly transparent. When these solutions work in the cloud, they become ubiquitous to the whole company, and make reporting and analysis very easy.

3. Qualify it

Every material that enters a jobsite is supposed to fill a specific role, and most of them have specifications. These specifications tell more than simply their dimensional requirements and how many of them are needed. In many cases, specifications reveal recommended hardness, color, strength, humidity, finish, temperature, flexibility, and numerous other descriptors meant to differentiate one item from the next. Sometimes, there are no written specifications, but there are still specifications that apply.

For example, lumber with too much moisture will lead to mold and decay problems down the line. Drywall with a high sulphur content will lead to mold and odor issues under the right conditions. The only way you can address the potential problems caused by materials that don't meet specifications is buying from reputable sources that can verify the origins of the materials. Secondly, for critical components that eventually get covered up in the construction process, it's a good idea to do some of your own tests for moisture and other aspects that are critical.

4. Schedule It

Don't overlook leveraging the schedule to help manage materials. Suppose you have recurring deliveries of windows and those deliveries usually happen about a week before installation. Put the event on the schedule and list the resources involved. Then include a predecessor activity a comfortable time before the event so you have time to take care of preparation tasks. By doing it this way, you can account for proper storage and handling so you can reduce damage and wasted time.

5. Store It

When you have materials coming on the jobsite that aren't going to be used right away, it's a good idea to have storage available. Depending on the item, you might have to store it in an enclosed area to protect it from weather and theft. This is especially true if you have a jobsite that is co-mingled with places having public access. A good approach in this case is to cordon off the working area and create storage places within.

Some of your options for enclosed storage include storage containers, wood or metal framing covered with tarps, completed portions of the project that are weathertight, and temporary structures. For longer term storage situations, you might use a nearby commercial storage facility or another nearby structure that is weathertight and secure.

6. Track it

You will never know for sure that suppliers are providing materials that match the project specification unless you track it. You will never know for sure that the material arriving at the jobsite actually makes it in its complete form to the activity where it's supposed to be used, unless you track it. Every aspect of the material journey is an indicator of how effectively you are managing those materials.

If you are using a manual materials process, you need to get people who handle the materials to verify the materials they receive and their quantities. That can be as simple as placing a check mark on the delivery receipt or initialing the receipt. Recording the time, or adding a timestamp is also a good idea, and when there are discrepancies you should have a way for people to annotate the delivery document so it stands out from the rest.

When using a barcode or other automated system, much of the tracking aspect will fade into the background. You will simply call up reports or do searches to fulfill tracking requirements.

Don’t forget to track quality as well. For critical components that get covered up or that have exacting specifications, you need to have a process in place that records critical aspects of the material condition at each step of its journey on the jobsite.


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