Lean Construction: Can Lean Thinking Really Streamline Construction Practices?

July 26, 2018 Karli Langner

There’s a growing trend in the construction field toward incorporating “lean methodology” to guide project delivery. Virtually anyone in business is familiar with lean principals, which are widely applied in manufacturing to eliminate defects, improve safety and foster continuous improvement through standardization and measurement. But a construction site is not a factory floor. We don’t make and pack widgets, and we don’t produce “standard” products.

So how on earth can lean methodologies be applied on a construction site?

The potential benefit of applying lean thinking to construction is easier to visualize if you boil lean down to its most basic two-fold goal: maximize value; minimize waste.

Looking at it from this perspective, it’s easy to see that the construction industry is ripe for application of lean strategies, especially when it comes to cutting waste.

Waste is often more difficult to expose on a construction site than in a manufacturing environment because, by their nature, construction projects are not as standardized as production lines. But even on construction sites there are recurrent processes that can be improved and made more efficient through standardization, measurement and improvement.

Take, for example, transportation fleet operations:

  • Every driver in every truck on every job incurs a certain amount of nonproductive time: fueling, sitting in traffic, waiting in line at the dock, loading and unloading, clocking in and out, keeping records….
  • Depending on the driver’s experience level, this nonproductive time can amount to 20-40 minutes per day. That’s 200 lost minutes – more than 3 hours – per week.
  • Using an average of 48 operational weeks per year, that’s 160 hours that vanish each year. Per truck. You do the math. If you have 25 fleet trucks, you’re losing four thousand hours a year to nonproductive time!

Of course, not all delays and time-wasters can be eliminated, and not all those precious hours can be recovered. But there are industry-specific tools that can help you examine the actual causes – and consequences – of all those wasted hours, so you can implement lean practices that will save valuable time and boost productivity.

Command Alkon’s TrackIt solution improves fleet performance by identifying specific areas for improvement. TrackIt gives you a clear, continual view of your entire fleet’s location and performance, including:

  • Monitoring frequency and length of breaks.
  • Viewing driver stops, starts, and in-cab attendance in real time.
  • Spotting route variations and deviations.
  • Examining unplanned delays.
  • Documenting driver safety practices.
  • Mapping truck location and status in real time.
  • Verifying hours-of-service compliance.

Not only does TrackIt allow you to recapture half or more of nonproductive fleet time, the information it generates can also be used to improve individual driver performance and productivity, alert customers to delivery delays, and ensure performance standards across your operation.

While no two construction projects are alike in terms of specs, requirements, budgets, timelines, labor, materials, and customer expectations, practically all struggle with preventing waste and boosting productivity. Putting a flexible fleet-automation tool into service is an ideal first step toward going lean.

Command Alkon makes numerous solutions that apply lean methodologies for eliminating waste within the construction process. For example, maximize truck drivers’ productivity with TrackIt, the tracking and telematics tool that allows drivers to punch the clock in and out from the cab, saving a minimum of 20 minutes per day, per truck. Even this small timesaver can equate to hundreds of thousands of dollars of savings across your transportation operations.

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