Contributed by Elias Saltz
Like it or not, the architectural product library is a thing of the past. No longer do firms set aside rooms dedicated to shelves covered with hefty binders. The parade of product reps schlepping suitcases filled with paper updates has mostly stopped. Architects' and specifiers' need for up-to-date information, on the other hand, has not abated. My job writing specifications requires me to research multiple products and systems every single day. Product data is now almost exclusively available electronically, and manufacturers are figuring out the best way to present and distribute that information. Many consolidate the information on thumb drives and hand them to architects and specifiers at meetings and product shows. But how useful is that when those thumb drives end up tossed in a box, gathering dust?
Also, it's recognized now that thumb drives are a major cyber security risk; any one of them can be a malware or espionage vector and the product manufacturer may not even know it (every single thumb drive is made in China, and who knows what's hidden in them?!). Also, the data on the drives is current as of the date the drive is made, but quickly gets obsolete. So thumb drives aren't the answer.
The only feasible on-demand information source we have, other than old-fashioned picking up the phone or meeting reps in person, is manufacturer websites. I visit dozens of sites for every project I write, and often I struggle to find the information I need. This might be because the sites are poorly designed, require registration, or simply don't have the information. The search bars return useless results. The guide specifications, when available, aren't editable. There are no details. There are no tools to find local reps.
Most sites actually contain very thorough information, but there's frequently a learning curve to finding it efficiently because they do counterintuitive things. Often, for example, clicking "I'm an Architect" displays only CEUs, not product information.
The time is ripe, I believe, for the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI), a national association most famous for publishing formats adopted by the entire construction industry, to jump into solving this problem. WebFormat (or whatever it would be named) is an idea that has been floating around for a long time, but hasn't yet been implemented. Given the investment CSI has been making in upgrading its technological footprint, the time is ripe to develop this product.
What would WebFormat contain? I imagine a single hyperlink on each manufacturer's homepage that would bring us to an index of the available products, perhaps organized in multiple ways (how about drop down options for sorting by MasterFormat number, UniFormat category, and OmniClass table), with a very brief description of the product within the index. The main index page would also have a way to search for local reps and senior technical reps. Upon visiting a specific product, we could immediately find details, product data sheets, photographs, available colors/finishes, guide specs (in MS Word), warranty information, HPD's and EPD's, installer qualifications, and installation instructions. All the information will be organized by every manufacturer in a uniform way.
Let's end the endless, frustrating, fruitless web searches, and learn from how MasterFormat and SectionFormat have transformed AEC. CSI needs to begin working on WebFormat, now.
Contributed by Liz O'Sullivan
Purchasing for construction projects isn’t like purchasing in our personal lives.
When we buy things in our personal lives, we go to a store, or go online, find exactly what we want, and buy it. Sometimes we ask someone else to get something for us. The very particular among us might attach a photo of exactly what we want when we send the email or text message request for the item.
On construction projects, the architect finds out from the owner the general idea of what is required, then the architect, through the drawings and specifications, tells the general contractor exactly what to provide. OK, so this is complicated, but it still makes sense.
What happens next is where it gets weird…
The bidding general contractors solicit bids from subcontractors and vendors, each of whom is a specialist in his or her area. These are the people who read the documents and actually provide what the drawings and specifications require, and the general contractor who is awarded the project coordinates all of that work. These bidders may submit bids on the specified items, or may submit substitution requests, requesting that different products be approved by the architect.
One time I was talking with a product rep at my CSI Chapter meeting about specifications for toilet partitions and lockers. The rep represents several different manufacturers. She currently has someone working with her who is new to the construction industry.
The new person looks at specifications for all projects that have just hit the street, to see if the specs include manufacturers they represent, or products that they might be able to meet the spec for, even if their manufacturers aren’t specifically listed. If their manufacturers aren’t listed, but they can meet the spec, the product rep will prepare a substitution request and submit it to the general contractor for him to submit to the architect, to see if they can get approved, and therefore be able to provide a bid.
The new employee described this process as “the strangest way to do business.” It is very odd, from a manufacturer’s or distributor’s point of view. The building owner, through the architect, asks for something specific, or maybe says “provide one of these three” or maybe says “provide this, or something equal.” Then the manufacturer, distributor, or subcontractor goes through a process which looks a bit like begging to be allowed to play, too.
This isn’t actually that strange when the documents are clear.
Contributed by Russell Harrison
In my last blog post we looked at the struggles a product rep has comparing a product that is specified that doesn’t match the drawings. Or, how we compare apples to oranges.
In this post, we’re going to take it one level further and look at one small thing that happens at the subcontractor level during the bid phase. Before I go there, I’m going to sidetrack into the glazing side a bit, but we’ll bring it back around to the metal panel industry we spoke about in blog post #1, I promise!
In a past life, I was a subcontractor in Oregon working in the commercial glazing realm. We would install anything glazing related in commercial buildings or high-end residences. That could be curtainwalls and storefronts, automatic door entrances, or even vinyl windows. The reason I bring this up is because it gave our team exposure to items from Divisions 5 (Metal), 7 (Thermal and Moisture Protection), or 8 (Openings). As our work was based around Division 8, this forced us to sometimes work with quite a few items outside of our realm of expertise and brought up a lot of questions internally. Anytime we had time to reach out to a rep and discuss the things we didn’t understand, we would do so. However, when our bid lead times were short, we’d have to make a lot of guesses.
Guessing isn’t an abnormal occurrence in construction estimating. Unfortunately, it’s quite normal. Controlling the amount of guessing for subcontractors is an area where we can all help.
Subcontractors, like most people involved in the commercial construction industry, have to clearly understand the work to bid a project accurately. As product reps, we try to work side by side with our subs to make sure they have all the information they need by the bid date so they can provide a thorough bid, but sometimes things happen outside of our control. A recent item outside of our control, and a very relevant example, would be our white-hot construction market in a booming economy.
During a construction boom, most estimating teams at the subcontractor level are working 60-70 hours a week in an attempt to keep up with the number of projects that are bidding. This doesn’t leave much, if any, time for other daily tasks. Estimators are typically very selective of what they will consider bidding during these times, will only work with general contractors (GC's) they like, will choose to bid jobs that are completely detailed and well specified, or will chose projects that fit into their available labor calendars.
Contributed by Roy Schauffele
One of my favorite movie lines is “you’re killing me, Smalls”, from the baseball movie, 'The Sandlot'.
Well in today’s world, especially specifications for air barriers, the construction industry is killing me. I have written about this item before on #FixConstruction, but to no avail. One of the technical data points I hear design folks dig their feet in on is the “perm rating”. Permeance is a measurement of water vapor transmission through a material, often based on testing performed in accordance to ASTM E96, either Procedure A (dry cup or desiccant) or Procedure B (the wet cup). Big note here, the IBC (International Building Code) in Chapter 2, only references Procedure A.
For the record, I love good reproducible usable data, but the ASTM E96 method of testing leaves me flat. At this moment, I’m sitting here looking at the same material, tested by two different accredited laboratories and there is a 300% difference between the two labs between both two (2) Procedure A samples and two (2) Procedure B samples. With that type of difference, how can one rely on this type of data?
The ASTM E96 standard itself states, in part, “A permeance value obtained under one set of conditions may not indicate the value in another set of conditions”. Based on a round-robin testing effort, ASTM reports E96 has about 20% lab-to-lab variability. I bet you are going to have to think fairly hard about another part of your project manual where you’d allow a 20% variability in testing data.
Permeance data is not an evaluation criterion for ABAA (Air Barrier Association of America). The data is listed by ABAA because the design community has requested it.
Going back to the code definitions, the language used in the air barrier business is constantly changing as the industry and technology evolve. Nowhere is this more evident than in Building Code language, which now fully defines Vapor Retarders and Vapor Permeable in Chapter 2 of the 2015 & 2018 IBC (International Building Code).
Contributed by Russell Harrison
As product reps, most of us have it pretty easy in our day-to-day lives. Sure, there are long days walking, driving, or even flying from meeting to meeting. And don’t forget the many nights in hotels!!! But overall, our jobs aren’t too difficult.
Well, except for the one thing that we don’t have control over. When the drawings and specifications don’t agree on a project. This is always a difficult spot to be in for a product rep. I won’t even start to cover what happens at the subcontractor level, as that’s a blog post unto itself.
Has anyone ever wondered what happens when a manufacturer’s rep is asked to provide a bid in that instance? Many things happen, and not necessarily all of them are good! To give you a background on what products I cover as a rep, I handle aluminum composite materials (ACM), plate, and honeycomb panels in the Pacific Northwest. Our products are specified on a regular basis. A good number of projects we end up working on are handled via substitution request.
Typically, when a subcontractor gets an invite where one of our products are being used (material, not necessarily manufacturer specified), we’re forwarded some, or all of the information we need to get started on providing a material bid. As reps, we get to go through the details and specs to make sure they work together and there aren’t any issues. In the last month, I’ve had eight or ten projects come across my desk where the specs and details did not agree, even to the point of ACM rainscreen panels being specified, but the drawings calling out honeycomb barrier panels. That, kids, is an apples and oranges conversation and very difficult to negotiate at the architectural level without ruffling feathers!
The first thing that I do when providing a subcontractor request is to annotate the project spec and note where our proposed substitution is an equal or comparable, but I always include notes where there was a “miss” on the part of the architecture team to either make sure the spec was clean or where the details don’t match the specs. Unfortunately, because my notes are on the spec, it always seems that I’m picking on the specifier, but I’m not. Regrettably, it’s a feature of the substitution request process, since they are typically based around the specifications.
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