Proper installation ensures performance standards are met: Part 2

This final installment of a two-part series explains why electrical specifiers should take a cue from the 1980s rock band Van Halen and why defending a specification is the only way to ensure that you get what you have specified.


Let’s consider a large wastewater project in southern Arkansas. The project had started but the electrical portion had not yet begun. The specifying engineer called a meeting of all the electrical personnel on the job site and requested each worker’s valid, unexpired installer certification card. Insisting on proper installation training prevents the risk of dangerously compromising performance standards. That’s why the project specification required each worker on the electrical team to have a card. But no one could fulfill the requirement.

The specifying engineer immediately called a key electrical product manufacturer and, with support from the factory, arranged to have installation training conducted at a time and place suitable to the on-site electrical contractor. The specification for certified personnel ultimately was met, but only through the diligence of the specifying engineer with prompt assistance from the manufacturer.

In this example, the specifying engineer had a decision to make. He could have let the project proceed without qualified product installers. But that would have potentially put the project in jeopardy of product failures. Instead, he chose to say, “You will follow the written spec. You will be certified. If you do not follow the spec, you will not work on this project.” By making that decision, the specifying engineer was able to set an expectation early on for conformance to specifications, thus representing the best interests of the owner before this installation process even began. 

A lesson from Van Halen

According to an article from Entrepreneur, Van Halen, a hard-rocking band that rode a wave of success in the 1980s and 1990s, had a notorious rider on its contract with a concert promoter. Among typical requirements for the band’s security, sound system, concert lighting, and even backstage food, the rider specified that there be “no brown M&M's candies in the backstage area.” If those colored candies did appear backstage, “the band could cancel the entire concert at the full expense of the promoter.” 

While many people thought the M&Ms requirement was a joke, the band had an important reason for including it. Other parts of the rider dealt with safety issues, and the band wanted to ensure that the promoter addressed every detail in its rider—from the seemingly benign food requirements to important safety considerations—to make the concert experience as safe as possible for everyone involved. If the promoter read the M&M requirement, the band felt confident that other parts of the rider also were read.

Similarly, the extra effort of enforcing the language and intent of a project specification will benefit everyone in the long run because the specifier's decisions heavily impact the success of the project. When the job is done correctly, long-term investment goals can be met, and the risk of facing extra costs or liabilities from project failure diminishes. This can have significant impact, as illustrated in industries such as water/wastewater in which half the 20-year annualized cost of a typical investment is tied up in operations and maintenance (O&M) and repair and replacement (R&R).

Some specifiers are apprehensive about defending a specification due to the heightened level of involvement. However, it’s vital to keep in mind that, depending on the nature of the liability, owners, end users, specifiers, distributors, and contractors can become liable for long-term failures if the specification is not followed. 

Today, an increasing number of specifiers and owners are getting involved, not just because of liability, but also because they have faced costly failures and increased operating cost when the original specification was not met. 

Defending a specification

Here’s another example: A good manager always questions the statement: “That product is not available—that’s why we need to break the spec.”

The facilities managers of a large school district in Texas realized, after repeated instances, that their district was victim of a common practice of substituting nonspecified products by claiming that the specified products “are not available.” Those facilities managers now coordinate, early in every project, with specified manufacturers to validate that specified products are in fact available locally. 

Defending a specificaion is the only way to ensure that you get what you have asked for.

School districts are always trying to make the most of their limited budget. After paying for the high cost of replacing repeated failures of some products over the years, the school district facility managers in this example have learned to be explicit in specifying products that have been proven to avoid failure. They deliberately incorporate the same specification into every project and follow up to ensure that specifications are met by conducting regular visual inspections of ongoing projects. 

Dedicated facilities managers ensure a specification is worth defending and then exercise their right to safeguard prudent use of their school district’s resources by defending that specification. The funding process through public bonds commits facilities managers to build facilities that last and that minimize long-term maintenance cost. Through their diligence, these managers ensure that the investment meets the long-term goals of providing a safe place of learning for students. 

Most specifiers make the necessary effort to ensure the successes of their projects. First, they share essential knowledge about their specifications with their team and the owner. They highlight the significance behind each decision in terms of functionality and prevention of future system failures. 

Second, they choose high-quality manufacturers with a track record of service and establish communication early on to support the project. 

Third, they take the time to qualify the subcontractors and visually inspect the project during installation to ensure all specifications are followed. By consciously creating an effective process and following through, specifiers can defend their specifications to drastically reduce chances of failure, ensure the long-term success of the project and, most importantly, give owners the value they deserve. 

Steve Voelzke, president of the Robroy Industries Conduit Division, has more than 25 years of experience in electrical industry, including successfully starting up and operating one of the largest automation and control integrator firms in North America.

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