Tapping the Source: The Role of the Manufacturer in Spec Writing
What makes a good specification? Ask ten different manufacturers and you will receive ten different answers. Some say it's the level of product detail included, while others say it's the information about the elements surrounding the product, its environment, users, and other such aspects. No matter what the point of view however, all agree that the crucial step of product spec writing is often treated a bit too lightly.

With little time to spare on research, architects resort to using abundantly available generic product specifications that address general concerns but not the specific application at hand. Each and every day, generic, ambiguous, and sometimes completely faulty product specifications leave the hands of unwitting architects and land in the lap of frustration and despair experienced by the manufacturers. Could the opportunity for both sides be anymore obvious?

Why manufacturers need to be involved
Manufacturers have product specific knowledge and experience that surpasses that of any one architect. They bring to light all the variables the architect needs to consider before a product can be effectively specified, and they are readily in tune with the latest product specific technology and materials that can be applied. An architect can tap into this wealth of information to ensure his specifications identify the most optimum product for the need.

Additionally, manufacturers are naturally balanced checkpoints for identifying whether a product has been correctly specified. Manufacturers have an interest in pointing out when a product has been "under specified" because their reputation depends on the product's ability to perform to a specified need. It is also in their interest, however, to make it be known when a product has been "over specified" by pointing out cost savings that will bring them closer to winning the bid.

Most importantly, involving a manufacturer in the process of spec writing makes it possible for the architect to sample the manufacturer's merits by witnessing first-hand their knowledge, capabilities, customer service and dependability - before they make the commitment to use them. And it also creates an opportunity for the manufacturer to introduce the architect to products or techniques that are unique to the manufacturer's company and can lessen the time and cost to completion or possibly offer a more aesthetically appealing option.

What needs to be discussed?
Before sitting down and writing the specifications, both the manufacturer and the architect will need to discuss the details of the specific need. Taking this extra effort in the beginning will save both sides a lot of rework in the end. Some of the things that typically need to be discussed include:

A good general description of the project, the building or structure it will be used in, the purpose it will serve, the geographic location, the expected life span of the building, etc.

The frequency of use and user characteristics. Will the product be heavily used by the general public, or is the installation for private residential use? Are the users small children, the elderly, the handicapped, or a team of football players rushing onto the game field?

What type of environment will the product be exposed to? Will it be used indoors or outdoors, in extremely hot or cold conditions? Is it directly in the sun? Is it in a highly corrosive environment? It is an industrial or light commercial application, and is aesthetic appeal a high priority or is the product more utilitarian?

Details about the components the product will need to interact with (i.e. walls, windows, floors and ceilings).

Bottom Line
Generic and vague specifications lead to products that perform poorly and can damage an architect's reputation permanently. In a sense, inviting a product manufacturer into the process of spec writing makes for good business practice. Manufacturers supply the knowledge and insights that architects need to effectively meet their own clients' needs.

Case in point
Krieger Specialty Products was approached by the architects for the City of Huntington Beach to replace and install door hardware at several public restroom locations on one of the city's popular public beaches. Krieger's product and service proved to be a timely and knowledgeable choice, and it wasn't long before the architects approached Krieger to furnish door specifications for another project on the pier.

After some discussion and research into the details surrounding the installation, Krieger was able to make recommendations for changing the spec to a product that was more optimal for the use and the environment at hand.

For one, the original product spec called for a generic galvanized, G90 zinc coated, hollow metal doors and frames Krieger suggested changing the spec to a low carbon, 316 grade of stainless steel (also known as "Marine Grade"). Having years of experience in the field of door manufacturing, Krieger knew that stainless steel would be a better choice for the elements encountered at the beach.

Stainless steel would make it possible to make the door lighter in weight while exceeding the strength and durability offered by galvanized steel. A lighter door was more preferable in a public setting that would encounter users ranging from children to the elderly, while the durability offered by stainless steel was better equipped to handle the onslaught of daily traffic. The stainless steel doors would also be easier to keep clean and graffiti free.

Krieger further specified an additional layer of a compatible primer that would further protect the stainless steel properties from the rigors of repetitive cleaning as well as air born salt and carbon monoxide particles naturally occurring at the beach. And, Krieger recommended the door hardware be specified as stainless steel to eliminate the possibility of corrosion that sometimes occurs when steel hardware components come in contact with stainless steel.

The result is a product and an application that gave the architectural firm the satisfaction of knowing they provided the City of Hunting Beach with a long lasting return on their investment.
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