We hear it all the time...
"We can't wait 2 weeks."
"We're pouring tomorrow!"
"What do you mean this is 'special'...it's in the catalog!"
There are multiple reasons for longer than desired lead-times from manufacturers:
Slow Moving Items:
While many manufacturers plan for peaks and often have a good inventory of "A," "B," and oftentimes many "C" SKUs you will most definitely run into issues with slower moving "C" and "D" items. While these parts are still offered in the catalog, you should plan for long lead-times. Like all of us, manufacturer's have limited space and resources and choose to and capitalize on product that will be used on most every job.
These are items that are often either not listed in the catalog or are variations of those that are. For example, you order a pump with a custom impeller trim, an odd-sized sewage package with an attached valve box, an engineered control panel, or a grease trap with a custom extension. These will most certainly push your lead-time out by weeks (if not months). Even if a manufacturer has the "base" item in stock, machining and testing may still need to be completed. Manufacturers need time to engineer, build and test these products.
Uncalculated Spike in Demand:
While somewhat less common, this can also cause unexpected delays in product lead-times. What can cause this? A single very large job (or combination thereof), an act of God or an unexpected overall increase in construction. In my previous life, I sold backflow preventers. One year, all available pressure vacuum breakers were being shipped to Florida due to a very late (and uncommon) freeze. The lead-times on some (even common) models were in excess of 8 weeks! This isn't something that factories could have planned for.
So how can you avoid holding up a pour, project completion or possible liquidated damages? There are several ways:
PLAN, PLAN, PLAN: While, especially in today's economy, it is important to purchase a job competitively, doing so quickly must be a priority. Many contractors don't submit on product until weeks after a contract award or letter of intent. Mostly, this is due to the length of time it takes to purchase a project. This lost time could be precious, especially on fast-moving jobs.
Inform Engineers of Long Lead-Time Issues On Submittals:
During the initial phase of a project, many engineering firms are extremely busy reviewing
submittals. You don't want your submittals containing longer lead-time products getting lost in a stack, so write an email, or mark up the cover sheet to inform the engineer that the submittals included in a particular package contains product that has long lead-time. This will hopefully push it to the top of the pile.
Partner with Quality Manufacturer's Reps and Distribution Partners:
This is probably the most important element. Have you heard the phrase "not all products are created equal"? The same thing can be said about factory representatives. You will want to partner with a local rep. or distributor who has both strong relationships with consulting engineers and the manufacturers they represent. Factory reps. are your biggest ally and your local contact with the manufacturer. Getting quality reps. involved from the beginning of the project can not only save you money on material by providing unknown product insight and advice, but also help you plan on job releases, inform you of lead-time issues upfront and assist in scheduling projects. When possible, a good rep. can also push the factory for quicker shipments if the contractor gets into a real jam. Some representatives and distribution partners may even carry local inventory of certain product, which can assist in job staging and will avoid last minute freight charges and jobsite holdups.
Remember, manufacturer's, distribution partners, contractors and engineers are all in this together. We all want to get material on site as quickly as possible, while maintaining the integrity and quality of the product shipped. Sometimes this is a juggling act, but following these tips will help projects go off just a little more smoothly!