Understanding product data sheets and master guide specs

September 15, 2015

By providing better product documentation, and following CSC practices, manufacturers assist specifiers in doing their job. Photo © BigStockPhoto[1]
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.

The master guide specification section is probably the single most important tool the specifier uses when developing a project manual. By the time the project manual is being developed, the design team members have a fairly good idea of all the products (or at the very least, product types) they need to include in the specifications.

Whether an independent specification consultant or an employee of a large design firm, everyone wants their project manuals to look as professional as possible. They also want their manuals to follow a standard format that will be easily arranged and familiar to those reading them. Since this instant comprehensibility saves time and money, so most of the better specification writers follow three recognizable, accepted formats—all jointly published and maintained by CSC and CSI:

Most specifiers use a base document that is either an office master specification system or a commercially available one to which they subscribe on a regular basis. They supplement these master specification systems with manufacturer’s guide specification sections that also need to follow those three formats.

Although the manufacturers’ guide specifications can emphasize specific products, models, and trade names, they should be written in such a way they can be made more generic with a few keystrokes. Many large, publicly funded organizations want to see the specs written generically or at the very least in a non-proprietary way. Making it easy for the specifier to use the master guide specification section in this way may not get the manufacturer’s name in that particular project manual, but the specifier will not forget how easy the document was to work with.

In today’s construction industry, there are many manufacturers with similar, if not identical, products. The company that has its product specified in the project manual has a definite advantage over the one who wants to have its product come in as a substituted or another accepted material. When all other things—price, quality, availability, ease of maintenance, and warranty—are considered equal, the decision to incorporate a manufacturer’s guide spec into the project manual may come down to the decision on whose section is easiest to work with. This choice could well be based on whose specification section is written in such a way it can be incorporated into the project manual with the least amount of effort.

Neither technical product data sheets nor master guide specification sections should be primarily intended as sales marketing tools—their main function must be to assist the specifier in incorporating the manufacturers’ products into the project manual. Specifiers are no different from anybody else. If there is an easier way to do something and still end up with the same quality at the end, then that is the route to be taken.

Still, one must remember getting specified does not always result in making a sale. However, manufacturers have a better chance of making a sale when their products are specified than when they are not…

TD[2]Tom Dunbar, FCSC, RSW, CSI, is an independent specification writer specializing in writing manufacturer’s guide specification sections and technical product data sheets for the North American construction industry. He can be reached at tdsquared@speccoach.com[3].

  1. [Image]: http://www.constructioncanada.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/bigstock_Inside_of_aAB6C191.jpg
  2. [Image]: http://www.constructioncanada.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/TD.jpg
  3. tdsquared@speccoach.com: mailto:tdsquared@speccoach.com

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