Mace tracks the lead times of 38 works packages and Gardiner & Theobald turns the spotlight on structural steel frames
Lead times have risen in nine sectors and fallen in three since the last Lead times update (9 March, pages 76-79). Most changes were in the structures and services areas of the industry with little movement reported by fit-out providers. Of the sectors that increased lead times, several are expecting further increases this year.

Piling ↑ jumped two weeks to six overall as several postponements meant work schedules were disrupted. This is expected to be a short-term problem over the summer. Staff shortages in middle management are widely reported to be the crucial issue within the sector.

Steel frames → remained static again, with a 10-week lead in.

A significant increase for procurement of precast concrete frames ↑ with 18 weeks (up four) now required before commencement on site. Bottlenecks in design and approval (up five) have largely contributed to the increase, with insufficient experienced staff to cope with additional volume of projects. This lead-in is expected to extend again over the summer.

An increase of one week in manufacture leads to an overall period of 21 weeks for curtain walling ↑. The system area of the market is becoming busier, maybe as a consequence of fewer skilled fixers available.

All metal window ↑ companies report an increase in lead times, hence the two-week rise to 17 weeks overall. Glass supplies are now improving following shortages during the fourth quarter of 2000 and supply of raw steel section is also satisfactory. Manufacturing periods have increased by three weeks, as a result of volume of demand and the increase in use of non-standard fittings.

Demountable partitions ↓ dropped by one week to 11, as expected last time. However, projects in the pipeline may force lead times up again in the next couple of months.

There was a drop of one week to nine overall as work orders levelled off in the raised floor ↓ industry and design offices relaxed. No significant changes are expected.

Mechanical packages ↑ extended lead times by three weeks to 18 overall. Design and procurement periods increased as manufacturing periods fell. The scope of this sector is wide, which makes specific issues hard to identify, but booster sets and pumps need a four-to-six-week delivery time for a typical project. Other items tend to be on six to eight-week lead in.

Escalators → remain at 20 weeks with little change expected.

LV switchgear ↓ dropped one week to 13 weeks overall due to a fall in manufacturing whereas uninterruptible power supply ↑ and generator manufacturing ↑ periods both increased by one week, giving lead times of 10 and 21 weeks respectively.

Voice and data ↑ lead times extended by one week as there is a shortage of fibre-optic cable in the market. Copper products, however, remain available.

Ductwork ↑ lead time also increased significantly, up four weeks to 15 overall. Design and manufacture are the critical path items as the responsibility for co-ordination means several submissions of shop drawings. Most bought-in items, such as grilles and plenums, can generally be obtained in parallel with manufacture, hence the nominal four-to-six-week period identified. Lead times are expected to extend again through the summer as manufacturing departments particularly face larger orders.

In summary, most changes have occurred in the procurement and manufacturing periods with design departments remaining fairly stable. Human resources continue to be cited as a major influence on lead times, as opposed to basic material requirements.

No companies offered any brighter forecast on the staff shortages, although for the first time in a year companies emphasised middle management rather than site operatives being the major recruitment focus.

Going up

↑ Piling
↑ Precast concrete frames
↑ Curtain walling
↑ Metal windows
↑ Mechanical packages
↑ Data and voice cabling
↑ Uninterruptible power supply
↑ Ductwork
↑ Generators (600 kW)

Staying level

→ Steel frames
→ Escalators

Going down

↓ LV switchgear
↓ Demountable partitions
↓ Raised floors