Understanding product data sheets and master guide specs

By providing better product documentation, and following CSC practices, manufacturers assist specifiers in doing their job. Photo © BigStockPhoto
By providing better product documentation, and following CSC practices, manufacturers assist specifiers in doing their job. Photo © BigStockPhoto

By Thomas Dunbar, FCSC, RSW, CSI
When manufacturers provide technical documentation for their products, they are giving a tool to the specification writer for specifying those same materials. The two main documents on which specifiers rely are technical product data sheets and master guide specifications sections. The first is often the initial exposure a specifier has to a product, so it is important it delivers the information needed to allow the design team to make educated decisions.

Technical product data sheets come in many forms. Some are randomly arranged, and others follow specific formats to present the information in a standard arrangement. From a specifier’s perspective, it is much easier to work with something that organizes the required info in a familiar form. Having something in a standard format makes it easier to do comparisons with other products and saves the specifier time; it also ultimately saves money for the client or owner of the facility being constructed. If manufacturers are going to provide this type of tool, why not make it the best tool that it can be, and provide something that makes the specifier’s life easier?

Of course, this is not just companies being altruistic—if their technical data sheets are disorganized, it makes it more difficult for the specifier to compare their products to other competitors’, possibly prejudicing them against the product or company (although no one will ever admit to such a bias).

If there are companies who do not want their products compared to others when they are already specified, it would behoove them to remember at some point, the shoe will be on the other foot one day, it will be the manufacturer trying to get a product into a project manual as a substitute for something already specified. In this situation, the company would want the specifier to quickly and clearly see their offering meets or exceeds all the technical criteria.

The most prevalent format for technical product data sheets in the North America was originally developed by CSI as Spec-Data. (Copyright is now held in the United States by CMD and in Canada by Construction Specifications Canada [CSC]). It has a 10-part format that includes the following articles:

  1. Product Name.
  2. Manufacturer.
  3. Product Description (includes a basic description, materials and finishes, dimensions and capacities, etc., as well as product limitations and benefits).
  4. Technical Data (includes any applicable standards, approvals, and any environmental considerations such as use of recycled products).
  5. Installation (includes storage and handling requirements).
  6. Availability and Costs.
  7. Warranty.
  8. Maintenance.
  9. Technical Services.
  10. Filing Systems.

The Spec-Data system is easily adaptable for all construction products.

CSC also has a technical data sheet format called ProductFormat, which aligns more or less with SectionFormat (discussed later in this article), but it is not nearly as widely used or accepted in the industry as the Spec-Data system.

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  1. Tom – Excellent article. Really explains what a specifier is looking for when it comes to manufacturer literature – and more importantly, how manufacturers should perceive their role as being expert resource providers to the design community. Thanks for getting the Word out there.

  2. Hi Tom. Great article, but you skimmed over some other aspects of great value to the entire project team – namely “risk”. An informed designer won’t choose a product that’s inappropriate for its role. Specifying proper installation requriements will help insure the product is installed properly. Master guide specs help mitigate the risk of an inappropriate product being used, or the correct product being installed incorrectly from failing – benefiting both the owner and manufacturer..

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