The construction supply chain is of temporary nature and complex, with many interactions between multiple actors in different construction projects. This challenging context typically leads to relatively higher costs and lower productivity, compared to other industries. Supply chain management (SCM) has been put forward as a mean to better handle this challenging context. As a part of SCM initiatives some construction industry stakeholders have turned to third-party logistics (TPL) providers, especially in large construction projects. The use of TPL providers is a new, and under-investigated, phenomenon in the construction industry. The main purpose of this study is thus to explore the use of a TPL provider in a large construction project and to analyse its resulting effects. Driving forces and possible concerns for implementing TPL are identified and the possibility for TPL to be a facilitator for implementing SCM in construction is investigated. The research is based on a literature review and an explorative case study of a large hospital project in Sweden, where the client and the main contractor have initiated the use of a TPL provider to coordinate sourcing and materials handling activities on site. The results show positive effects on establishing an effective interface between the construction site and the supply chain. The results also show that a TPL solution facilitates an increase in productive work at the construction site itself, a reduction of costs and an increased utilisation of site assets. On the downside, the study also shows a lack of SCM knowledge amongst the involved actors in the project, hindering them to reap the full potential of TPL.
The construction industry is associated with problems such as low productivity and high costs. This has been highlighted in several government-funded reports in both Sweden and in the UK during the course of over two decades. The construction industry is a large industry sector employing hundreds of thousands and a large contributor to a country’s GDP. The problems therefore have a large impact on society. Some of the problems are rooted in the organizational structure of the construction industry. Compared to other manufacturing industries, the construction industry is organized in temporary organizations. The temporary organizations cause temporary supply chains, fragmentation among construction industry actors and adversarial relationships between those actors. Partnering has been but forward as a solution to overcome the temporariness and the adversarial relationships in the construction. Another solution to mitigate the problems suggested in the reports is supply chain management (SCM). Both concepts have been taken from the manufacturing industries and partnering has been more successful compared to SCM in the construction industry. In the construction industry the progress towards SCM has focused on logistics. In recent years dedicated third-party logistics (TPL) solutions have emerged in the Swedish construction industry, where a company is hired to manage the logistics in a construction project.
The purpose with the research presented in this licentiate thesis is to explore how client initiated TPL solutions and partnering can be facilitators for SCM in the construction industry. Being a new phenomenon in the construction industry TPL solutions provide a logistical competence not necessarily included in a traditional construction project. Therefore, TPL solutions are of particular interest when studying the realization of SCM in the construction industry. In the process of realizing SCM in the construction industry, the construction clients have been put forward as having a crucial and important role. The clients are the initiator and funder of construction projects and as such the client can influence the course of a construction project. Therefore, it is of interest to study how the client can take an active role in this process. Initiating a TPL solution in a construction project is one way for a client to take an active part in the realization of SCM in construction.
However, in order to study how clients can take an active role towards the realization of SCM in the construction industry, there have to be an understanding of how SCM is to be adopted to the construction industry context. SCM that derives from the manufacturing industry is designed to be used in long-term relationships with permanent organizational structures. The construction industry on the other hand is associated with short-term relationships and a temporary organizational structure. Partnering that is designed to mitigate the temporariness and establish long-term relationships have been quite successful in the construction industry, and could therefore be used as a facilitator for SCM in construction.
To study the use of client initiated TPL-solutions in construction and the realization of SCM in the construction industry the following research questions have been addressed:
To answer the research questions two main methodologies have been used; case study for the empirically grounded research and conceptual studies for the analysis of the case studies as well as for comparing the two concepts of partnering and SCM. All questions have been grounded in literature and previous research. The findings of this research is therefore grounded in both theory and in practice. The main findings of this research is that TPL solutions are not a quick fix for realizing SCM in the construction industry. However, if used right a TPL solution can be an effective tool to address logistical issues in a construction project and to establish an interface between the supply chain and the construction site. By initiating a TPL solution the client addresses the importance of logistical competence in a construction project. A TPL solution does not have a purpose of its own; a TPL solution is a service function to the construction project, providing expertise on logistics management. There are also a number of driving forces and concerns that have been identified, if they are addressed prior to a TPL solution is implemented, the likelihood of its success will increase.
Furthermore, both partnering and SCM rely on high trust and share several key components and issues that have to be addressed. Partnering on strategic level with several suppliers included can even be hard to distinguish from SCM. Wherefore, partnering is considered a facilitator for the realization of SCM in construction. By addressing the necessary issues in both concepts a good foundation for SCM is established.