Connecting the dots

Transporting construction materials in an e-commerce world

As e-commerce continues to gain traction another industry has been struggling to keep up with the demand: the transportation industry.

The e-commerce industry is not slowing down and has been predicted to increase as it becomes a more mainstream way of shopping.

More and more customers have taken to ordering construction materials online. This puts pressure on delivery companies to not only meet demand but also to get orders shipped on time and on budget.

Thus, transportation companies are finding new ways to get shipments to construction clients quickly.

A worksite without supplies is one that lies dormant and usually fails to meet the project deadline, which is why planning ahead is crucial.

Curtailing cost

In order to meet the demand, as well as the rising costs of transportation, many consumers need to plan ahead and think outside the box if they want to save on shipping and still get what they need.

Securing loads and ensuring they arrive on time and safely can be expensive. In fact, it has been estimated to be about 20 per cent of the total budget for construction projects.

To reign in the costs project supervisors need to carefully track and manage the order beginning at the supply chain and following through to material shipments.

Unfortunately, the reality is that transportation often gets overlooked when planning for a project. To save on costs and the headaches of shipping, it has become essential to include transportation of materials in the planning stages.

Preparing to have proper materials on the site during each phase of the project will mean that construction can become a continuous process rather than a start and stop job.

The changing face of transportation

For those in the trucking industry, keeping the trucks moving and the materials traveling can be a challenge. It requires complex logistics management as they need to consider the times their trucks will be on the road to avoid rush hour or heavy traffic times. Being slowed down on the route can be costly for these companies.

Transportation companies also need to keep their hand on the pulse of changing weather patterns as rough weather conditions can also pose a problem for deliveries to arrive on time. As we have recently seen bad storms on one coast can be detrimental to deliveries in other parts of the country.

Technology has been helping delivery companies manage these situations and adapt to the change in demand. Some even connect them with their customer’s inventory so they can know ahead of time when to send out materials. This is an advantage to those in the construction industry as it keeps supplies well stocked and moving projects along.

One transportation magazine has reported that companies are having to change their business models in order to adapt to e-commerce. Some of those changes include investing in smaller trucks that are capable of driving through residential neighbourhoods to get to urban construction sites.

Transportation options

Yet, trucks are not the only method for getting construction materials where they need to go. There are about 1.5 million carloads of construction materials like steel and lumber on the rails each year, according to the American Association of Railroads.

Trains have also been a practical transportation option as they are able to move larger loads. Thousands of tons of material can be moved on one train where it would take hundreds of trucks to deliver the same amount of supplies.

This is why rail has been pushed as a green transportation alternative. The volumes of material that can be moved by a single train make it more environmentally friendly compared to trucking a shipment. The Olympic Delivery Authority for the 2012 games in London focused heavily on sustainable methods and found they were able to get 50 per cent of materials delivered in this way.

However, selecting a shipping method also depends on how quickly the materials are needed. For project managers who plan ahead, delivery by rail is a reliable, cost-effective method. Yet, those who need supplies to arrive on a tight deadline may find train travel time unreasonable.

Given that many roads are already bogged down with the amount of trucks that travel on them daily shipping construction materials via rail is an option that contractors should consider seriously.


Getting supplies to the worksite on time and on budget will always be a challenge. Yet, without proper construction materials projects stall, clients get upset and reputations are damaged.

Contractors who plan ahead will find they have the most options to getting construction supplies delivered.