The Dangers of Switching Specification!

Why do we specify products and services when we design our buildings or building refurbishment projects?  Part of the reason is performance; it can be crucial to have the right products in the right places to ensure that they are fit for purpose and offer a qualified life expectancy with minimal maintenance.  This is one of the main reasons behind the UK’s rapid take up of BIM and it is hoped that the maintenance aspect of BIM will enable us to economically run our buildings in the future.

If this was the only issue, then the specifiers job would be quite straightforward and the ‘equal or approved’ standpoint in specifications would be relatively simple to action at the time of procurement.  Some products can be switched for similar products with little impact on the building, but one of the crucial areas where this late switch can, and often does go wrong, is in the façade or window specification.

Few buildings are designed in the same way, so the application of say a curtain wall system requires both specification and careful detail design.  Furthermore, the design of the external envelope is critical both for initial waterproofing the building for second fix and the avoidance of latent defects such as interface leaks.  This is the most critical area of design, the façade interface with the rest of the buildings external envelope.  Different systems will require alternative details, it’s not a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

If we allowed detail design to occur late, at the procurement stage, all but the best of the façade installers would struggle with detailing, however, this is exactly what is happening today every time we make a late switch to a facade system close to its anticipated order date.  If the specification is to be changed, then the design team really need to ensure that it is not only done on cost alone, but the same or better quality solutions are found which can be procured with a complete package such as warranties, acceptable lead times, quality of finish, performance, etc.

At the point of early design, often the aluminium systems company specified has a crucial input into product selection and design.  Today, design input often leads to some bespoke profile design, which is often cost effective offering a simple solution to a complex design requirement.  This critical detailed design can be lost as soon as the system is switched unless the systems company providing the replacement system is consulted and can meet the requirements of the project.

Whether client driven, or contactor driven, savings are often sought during a build programme and often the main contractor just goes out to tender again. This action assumes that the specified system, or supplier, is not able to reduce costs.  ‘Value Engineering’ often concentrates on what material content can be reduced, however, ‘Value Management’ looks at materials and the wider supply chain processes this can help reduce costs by reaching solutions and compromises which would not affect the final build quality.

Value Management looks at every process on the programme of work through to completion.  In the facade industry in the UK, the principles of Value Management have been adopted by Aluprof to deliver competitive installations in conjunction with their extensive network of experienced fabricators and installers.

To begin with, a review of the complete project programme is needed, with each of the processes and deadlines for completion itemised.  It is at this stage that options can be discussed.  One of the obvious choices is that of the system to be used for the façade.  As with other high end systems companies, Aluprof offer their systems in various designs to meet the exact needs of the building.  An example of this can be seen in Aluprof’s popular MB-50 Curtain Wall system, far from being a single system there are many options to choose from, these include various insulation levels, capping options or structural arrangements, each choice represents a cost or, a cost saving.  It’s a little like specifying options on a new car taking the base model of choice as a starting point.  A further consideration is the optimisation of aluminium profile cutting.  To reduce wastage on fabrication, profiles can be extruded to special lengths which offer high levels of cutting optimisation which in turn reduces material waste, which in turn reduces costs.  These are just some of the important issues that are reviewed in the Value Management process which ensures that the completed project performs exactly as specified and perfectly meets with the clients’ expectations.

With a large systems company such as Aluprof, working on the Value Management of a project at the very early stages, options such as choice of fabrication location can be explored to offer the best value and quality.  An example of this could be complex details within a unitised project where a local fabricator could produce all the standard units and where complex, say curved units, are manufactured competitively elsewhere where specialist equipment is available.  The key to any programmes would be to add value, not in cost terms, but in quality and time performance.  As we are all too aware, time delays on site carry significant costs for both main contractor and consequently sub-contractor.

On all projects, the systems company has an important part to play.  If using a commercial installer for the first time, a discussion with the systems company supplying the material will always ensure that they are involved and committed to the final supply chain.  The systems company can play a big part in cost savings, but the main thing to remember is that aluminium used remains at a fairly constant cost, and that it is the processes and detailing of these systems that can save costs.

To deal with the growing number of facade specifications calling for Aluprof’s high performance architectural aluminium systems, the company has recently opened a London office.  Based at the Business Design Centre in Islington, the location is ideal to offer advice to architects and contractors across the city and the South East.  Staffed by two full time architectural advisors, the office also offers a ‘drop-in’ centre for specification advice and support. It is recommended that early specification advice is sought very early in the initial design process.

Aluprof’s extensive range of systems which include unitised curtain walling, sliding folding doors and a wide range of window systems are increasingly being specified on a variety of residential and commercial projects across the UK.  All systems are designed and installed by selected, specially trained companies to ensure each product meets the Aluprof exacting standards.  Further information is available on the company website at and specialist advice is available directly from Aluprof UK offices on 0161 941 4005.

Read previous post:
The beauty of marble – technology by COMPAC

Natural marble, although beautiful to look at and touch, is extremely expensive, difficult to fabricate and costly to transport. Patterns...