Any type of work at a construction site always requires careful planning, but a solar installation can present unique logistics challenges. Fortunately, there are steps that can help ensure everything turns out well.
“Solar usually comes toward the end of a commercial project,” notes Brandon Carrasco, Director of Customer Solutions at Unirac. “Everyone tends to be itchy to get finished, so the temptation to just assume it will go well is there and pushes the project forward. Even though it’s rare, things don’t always go perfectly.”
“Just about anything can happen in the delivery process,” says Chase Alford, Unirac’s Senior Customer Fulfillment Coordinator. “Truck drivers fall ill just like anybody else, so schedules get turned around at the last second. Also, customers may not deal with material like this too often, so pulling a 20-foot-long bundle of steel that weighs thousands of pounds off a truck might surprise you with what equipment it takes.”
Then there’s natural disasters. The Unirac team has seen floods that closed warehouses and dealt with warehouses that moved a few days before. That’s why we do our best to prepare customers to anticipate anything that might come up, while making sure our processes are in place to be able to handle it.
Alford has a basic list to head off the biggest problems. Understanding these, he says, will eliminate the vast majority of problems.
- What kind of truck will this be arriving on? “This is one of the biggest things we run into,” Alford explains. “Sometimes sites don’t have a dock that an enclosed trailer can unload at. Or they might not have a forklift that can offload a flatbed. There are lots of different situations. The important thing is that if you have any restrictions at all for how you can receive material, let us know and we’ll figure it out. Barring that, we’re probably going to do things the most economical way for everyone, which might lead to unexpected challenges. We’ll ask if we think there’s any chance of misunderstanding, but the more proactive a customer is, the better the chances of heading it off.”
- Does your material have to arrive at a certain time? “This can get pretty complex,” Alford says. “We’re sending things to keep it economical, so arrival dates tend to be within a window and can shift along the way. Sometimes people will see a projected arrival date and have crews ready to install that same day, but that truck might not get there till late in the day or even the next morning. Or there might be a crane there for a single day. Or, you’re off for a particular holiday. So, if you’ve got a restriction like that, let us know and we’ll work through it. We have options to guarantee transit times and delivery dates. It adds a little to the cost but it might be impossible to do what you need otherwise and can actually end up costing a lot more than doing it this way. Let us know and we’ll work with you on the best option.”
- What site information does the carrier need? “You can’t have too many site contact phone numbers and emails,” Alford notes. “If something happens at the last second, it really helps to be able to reach out to several people in case someone is out or busy. Some carriers won’t deliver if they can’t confirm ahead of time. We also ask people to think through what it will mean for a large truck to show up at a particular place. If it’s a residence, for example, is there going to be a place to park and use the equipment needed to unload? If it’s a construction site in a rural area, will it be clear where to go down dirt roads? Do those roads flood and become impassable for big rigs?” Alford notes that some sites have particular hours (schools and hospitals, e.g.) or security requirements (like military bases). “All that information helps us—photos, maps, schedules—anything we can get helps cut down on problems.”
- Understand the logistics. Does your site have restrictions on how many pallets you can store, for instance? If so, Unirac will sketch out for you what your order entails. “We’ve had cases where pallets could only impose certain pounds per square feet and had to be weight-limited because they had to be stored on a roof,” Alford recalls. “That’s the kind of thing you can only do ahead of time.” This feeds into the question of when material arrives as well—sometimes a single order may be coming from more than one location. Assuming it will show up in a single load may not be a safe bet. If it matters, Alford stresses, “let us know as soon as possible and we’ll work it out.”
- Check your acknowledgements. Alford says this is an underappreciated step. “For every order, we send an acknowledgement that tells you everything we’re planning to do—where we’ll ship to, where we’ll ship from, when we’ll ship, and so forth. If there’s anything there that doesn’t make sense, we can explain it or pivot and do something differently. But the sooner we know, the better we can help you.”
Carrasco says it all ultimately boils down to communication in advance. “The more of this that can be done in advance, the better,” Carrasco says. “Everything is easier before the truck is there at your gate.”
Unirac’s team works hard to make sure our installers have what they need and are prepared for the unexpected. Our mission, “Better Solar Starts Here,” begins with planning for the unknown. At every step along the way, we’re there to help you get it right the first time. When mapping out your next project, get in touch with us in the early stages so we can help you roll it out smoothly.