construction material shortage pandemic
Pandemic-driven international supply chain issues have only compounded existing material shortages, particularly for timber and steel, creating worst crisis in 40 years. Image – Canva
  • Material shortage has been exacerbated by pandemic into a crisis, says Scott Brumfield
  • Timber and steel most affected, while issues persist with tiles, vinyl, glass and more
  • Builders find innovative ways to circumvent shortages and keep projects on track

Australia is staring down the barrel of a construction material shortage crisis, as the pandemic drives international supply chain issues.

The nation is in the midst of its worst timber and steel shortage in over 40 years, leaving builders scrambling to find their own solutions.

Material shortages reach crisis scale

To further compound the issue, record low interest rates and the Australian government’s HomeBuilder stimulus continues to propel demand for construction work.

The Housing Industry Association predicts these combined factors will see more than 143,700 new builds erected this year alone.

Extreme weather conditions including excessive rainfall and flash flooding, particularly in Queensland, are only aggravating the situation by impacting transport arrangements.

Scott Brumfield, Construction Manager at Hansen Yuncken, said material delays and sourcing issues are not unique to the pandemic given Australia’s location, however Covid-19 has exacerbated the issue to create a crisis.

Scott Brumfield Hansen Yuncken
Scott Brumfield, Hansen Yuncken. Image – Hansen Yuncken

“Steel prices have risen by 15% which is a significant increase when you’re talking about large scale, multimillion dollar projects, with lead times taking up to eighteen months.

‘In terms of our large-scale projects like Adelaide’s SkyCity casino expansion, which used 2200 tonnes of steel, and the redevelopment of Adelaide’s Her Majesty’s Theatre, which used 950 tonnes, the rising price of steel has significantly lifted overall project costs,” said Mr Brumfield.

Mr Brumfield added that Hansen Yuncken managed to remain under budget on these projects, attributing this to producing design intent plans as early as possible to provide clients an understanding of costs and building schedules.

‘It is almost inevitable this will be an ongoing issue so addressing it now will actually benefit the industry, and therefore Australia’s economy, long term.’

Scott Brumfield, Hansen Yuncken

Mr Brumfield commended the Federal and State Governments for efforts to promote local steel production, but said further support for local producers would certainly help.

Shortage inclusive of most materials

Max Baroni, Operations Manager at Hansen Yuncken, said prior to the national timber and steel shortage, the country already faced significant delays in sourcing tiles, vinyl, glass and aluminum due to pandemic-related backlogs.

“We experienced issues in sourcing bricks from Spain, for example, which took about nine months longer than usual.

‘Some tiles that were meant to come from Dubai were unavailable, in which case we had to change the design and source locally-made tiles instead,” said Mr Baroni.

Mr Baroni added that a clear line of communication with clients is crucial during a crisis like this, to confirm understanding that timelines and costs are not set in stone.

“Another way we’ve been navigating the situation is by sourcing from several suppliers instead of one. In many cases, suppliers have been able to break up bulk orders to tide us over,” he said.

Success in the face of adversity

In spite of the material shortage crisis, Hansen Yuncken have overcome supply issues to deliver several projects this year.

The Anglicare Minto retirement village, in New South Wales, recently reached completion and is ready to welcome older Australians for independent living within a vibrant community.

The Q Building at University of Newcastle’s Honeysuckle City Campus also opened its doors to students on July 19 this year.

The project was managed by Jonathan Russell and featured 113.4 tonnes of timber, a rarity in the current climate.

“The extensive use of timber on the Q Building required a unique approach, navigating the long lead time for timber supply from Europe during a global pandemic.”

Jonathan Russell, Hansen Yuncken

“Thanks to our well-developed BIM management techniques, advanced build methodology and reliable partner networks, not only did we manage to secure a total of 24 container loads of timber and accessories, but we also completed the mass timber elements ahead of schedule,” said Mr Russell.

Mr Brumfield urged those in the industry to stay optimistic, acknowledging that the Australian construction sector is facing its toughest time since the pre-Olympics construction boom in the 1990s.

“Testament to the dedicated workers across Australia’s construction sector, we will continue to find innovative ways to keep working,” Mr Brumfield concluded.

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