Averting Disruptions

Averting Disruptions

Preventing supply chain disruptions during construction.

By Matthew T. Strong

Disruptions are an inevitable part of construction because the complex process of building or remodeling a facility does not occur in a vacuum, but rather in the context of the larger world, where many forces are at play. At active manufacturing and processing facilities, disruptions can have ramifications up and down the supply chain, costing money and causing delays. These problems can be mitigated by working closely with the general contractor to carefully plan a construction or retrofit project.

Construction work is very different from the production, maintenance and administrative work that represents the bulk of the activity at most facilities. Construction consists of a series of change events requiring continuously altered conditions in order to be efficient. On the other hand, most business operations are more regular and depend on reliable environmental conditions in order to maintain efficiency. Clearly, the intersection of these opposing activities has potential for problems. Preparation is the key to completing work and protecting business operations.

Preparation is Key

The first step to prepare for a construction project in an active manufacturing facility is for all the stakeholders to meet with the general contractor and discuss the end result so everyone is working toward clear goals. This will provide an excellent multidisciplinary base to review the project game plan and eliminate one of the most common errors for projects in existing buildings. Defining expectations for the end result is essential to assembling an action plan; identifying issues that could negatively impact operations over the course of the work; and finding solutions to avoid those identified problems.

Make sure the general contractor understands the nature of the manufacturing and processing activities that occur in your facility. They need to know what you do, when you do it, and how you do it. The more the general contractor knows, the better able to devise a flexible construction plan that will enable them to complete the project with minimal interruptions to your operations. After all, disrupting operations threatens the revenue stream that will pay them. Key topics to review with the contractor include:

  • Delivery schedules for the warehouse
  • Time of day business unit workers arrive at the facility and when they go home
  • Preferred locations for contractor parking and material lay-down/storage
  • What areas of the facility are more sensitive to construction-related issues such as noise, debris, air quality, power outages
  • The equipment or operations that require constant, uninterrupted uptime
  • Coordination of any utility shutdowns
  • Coordination with planned facility shutdowns

Safety First

Safety should be one of the first and foremost topics of discussion prior to the start of a construction project. Nothing can derail a project faster than unsafe work practices or work conditions. Two safety programs must be melded into one comprehensive plan to protect both plant employees and construction personnel. The plant will have its own safety policies and procedures focused specifically on maintain a safe work place. The general contractor will have a comprehensive safety program setup to meet construction related safety requirements. Safety practices must be confirmed early in the project in order to protect every person working at the plant, and to maintain business operations.

In addition to the standard job-site safety practices, the construction team must be aware of the additional hazards that exist within an active manufacturing facility, such as chemicals, conveyor belts and moving parts. The plant workers must also be protected from the hazards created within an active construction site.

Flexibility is Required

The plant operator must work closely with the contractor to coordinate the site logistics. The goal is to keep construction materials, equipment and deliveries out of the way of plant deliveries and shipping so as not to disrupt operations. Consider that while plants have a regular flow of materials in and out, construction tends to be less predictable. Construction is, however, more agile, so contractors must be flexible to accommodate the customer and the manufacturing process.

Make sure the contractor understands your company’s environmental guidelines and is able to execute construction in compliance within those boundaries. Construction creates waste, debris, dust etc., so protecting the plant indoor and outdoor environment is important. The contractor should have a plan for cleanup and you should encourage them to use products that have minimal negative environmental impact, such as paint with low emissions of VOC, for example.

As the client, the manufacturer has the final say as to the successful completion of a construction project. The retrofit of an occupied building with active operations is very different from the construction on an unoccupied facility because there are more stakeholders, issues and potential problems that need to be handled in real time.

Establishing relationships and open communications between the general contractor and all the stakeholders in a construction project is the most important step to ensure that the completed retrofit achieves your goals and results in the least disruption to the manufacturing process and the related supply chain it supports.

Matthew T. Strong, professional engineer, is president of C1S Group, a full-service professional services engineering and construction firm based in Dallas with a specialty in completing complex projects in active industrial facilities. Strong has more than 26 years of experience in the design and installation of critical environment manufacturing projects.

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