Written by Morgan Kaenzig de Denus, AMAST Content
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, shortages have been a common occurrence. Today, many parts of the U.S. are facing a shortage of cement and concrete.
Concrete is the most common construction material due to its versatility, strength, durability, and cost-effectiveness. Each year, the world uses over 30 billion tons of concrete for everything from foundations to pools to roadways.
However, there’s a slight problem this year. Though construction activities and demand for concrete remain high, there is a shortage of cement, concrete’s base material—and it’s having a significant effect on many parts of the U.S.
Before the shortage, construction companies could get cement or concrete in a few days. Today, the suppliers have rationed supplies, leaving companies waiting for two to five weeks. Everything from the construction of pools to homes to safety barriers has drastically slowed down, and construction costs are higher.
So, why exactly is there a shortage of cement right now?
In part, COVID-19 and its impact on the global supply chain are to blame. Demand for cement is high due to the boom in residential and commercial construction, but the production cutbacks and maintenance delays that occurred during the onset of the pandemic continue to affect the supply of cement.
Additionally, the shortage of truck drivers and the service hours changes and loading restrictions some states have recently adopted have lengthened the amount of time it takes for cement to reach consumers. Plus, we’re facing labor shortages at other parts of the supply chain, poor weather conditions, and decreased rail capacity in the Midwest, so the cement supply has been struggling to keep pace with demand.
There have also been several localized issues that are worsening the cement shortage. For example, there have been strikes against unfair labor practices in Chicago and the shutdown of five cement plants in Alabama for maintenance. What’s more, the fires, strikes, and shutdowns in Canada have also had an impact on the U.S. construction industry.
Unfortunately, there’s not much construction companies can do to ease the shortage or supply chain issues. However, they can take action to ensure business continues as smoothly as possible until the shortage is over.
For example, consider extending your supply. You can change your construction methods, your concrete mix designs, or your concrete construction materials. Increasing the amount of fly ash or slag in your concrete mixture is a simple way of extending your supply.
You should also make sure to work with and stay in close contact with your supplier. Be sure to talk to them about their current stock, and don’t forget to plan your projects around their expectations.
If possible, find an alternative supplier that has more availability. After all, the cement shortage varies in severity from region to region, so you may be able to receive cement faster by using a supplier who has not been as deeply affected by the labor shortages, shutdowns, and supply chain disruptions.
The good news is that the cement shortage will likely be relatively short-lived. The U.S. economy is expected to cool down in the second half of 2022—and it may even enter a recession in 2023. Construction projects and cement demand will then decrease, and truckers may decide to return to the workforce, easing supply chain issues.
However, nothing is certain. Over twenty major cement plants in the U.S. will enter employment negotiations this year, which could impact cement supply. Additionally, increased government spending on infrastructure could drive up cement demand.