How project delivery is shifting the architect-manufacturer relationship

Avitru partner content - architect office

As the increased use of digital tools elevates the need for more sophisticated product documentation, the relationship between architect and manufacturer is becoming even more important.

As digital documentation tools increase and change, AIA partner Avitru advises how to get the support you need from manufacturers.

While the traditional design-bid-build (DBB) project delivery method is still the predominant means by which construction projects are delivered within the United States, design-build (DB) and integrated project delivery are becoming increasingly popular. As DB is adopted, the open ecosystem of DBB closes; the plans and specifications for a project may never see a digital plan room and, therefore, the traditional relationship between an architect and manufacturer changes.

Delivery methods and the relationships between architects and manufacturers are of particular interest to the professional staff at MasterSpec. In early 2018, we conducted a study of MasterSpec users on how DB was affecting their project deliverables. The obvious conclusion that the visual and written documentation was less detailed than a DBB project was initially, but as the project continued, the documentation became as, if not more, detailed than would be prepared for a DBB product.

The study showed that product specification shifts when we move to DB. More specific products were selected early on in the design phase, as the need for the traditional submittal process was essentially eliminated. However, that wasn’t true for all products, as some could not be selected until subcontractors were brought on board or agreements with manufacturers were made. While architects have always had a strong influence on the products that are selected or specified for the project, they enjoy more influence in the DB process than the DBB process.

How to maximize manufacturer support

Traditionally, manufacturers have focused on educating architects about their products (and trying to get specified as a basis of design) and building relationships with contractors who select products based on availability, price, and reputation. The manufacturer uses online plan rooms to find projects that are out to bid that include their products in the specifications. With DB (and BIM, which is another topic in itself), those plans may never see an online plan room that the manufacturer has access to; therefore, the relationship between the manufacturer and architect becomes much more important.

AIA conducted a similar study later in 2018 as part of its Architects Journey to Specification research initiative, and their conclusions matched ours while digging much deeper into the architect-manufacturer relationship.

What we found is that the change in that relationship isn’t insignificant. A major impact of this shift is the increased use of digital tools—lighting simulation, energy modeling, project information management, AR/VR, etc.—and the building product documentation needed to support those tools. Architects using these tools need product documentation well beyond a simple cut sheet and marketing materials. BIM, sustainability, energy modeling, and specification content ideally must work seamlessly together.

As such, the relationship between the architect and manufacturer as well as the experience, reputation of the source, and availability of digital content to support the design process become incredibly important.

So how does an architect leverage this scenario?

  • To start, realize that you are in a position to request or even demand digital content from a manufacturer. But that can’t happen overnight. Work on establishing relationships with manufacturers (and they should be working on establishing relationships with you).
  • But realize that it’s a two-way street: While you should have a reasonable expectation that your personal or project data will be protected by the resource or manufacturer, realize that they are also going to need some of that data to respond to your requests. That should not mean that they should be grabbing project data from your BIM or specification content.
  • Because you have a relationship with a manufacturer and there is a high likelihood that they may get specified in a project, be aware of cost. In a competitive bidding situation, cost is driven down. When a manufacturer is the sole source, it can be easy to not enjoy the same pricing benefit. Explore bulk purchase agreements, develop a shortlist of manufacturers for a certain product, or ask if they can do better.
  • Explore innovative methods like prefabrication by an outside party that may already have bulk purchase agreements and an edge in efficiency that will result in a lower price.

How and where the architect/manufacturer relationship evolves is something that we’ll be keeping our eye on, but in the meantime the takeaway for you, the architect, is that you can shape the relationship between yourself and the manufacturer to ensure that you deliver the best product to the owner.

In the meantime, please feel free to share your experiences by emailing Michael Heinsdorf at mheinsdorf@avitru.com.

Avitru develops MasterSpec, the architecture industry’s most trusted and comprehensive building specification system, created by AIA for its members. Learn more at avitru.com.

AIA does not sponsor or endorse any enterprise, whether public or private, operated for profit. Further, no AIA officer, director, committee member, or employee, or any of its component organizations in his or her official capacity, is permitted to approve, sponsor, endorse, or do anything that may be deemed or construed to be an approval, sponsorship, or endorsement of any material of construction or any method or manner of handling, using, distributing, or dealing in any material or product.

Image credits

Avitru partner content - architect office

Carl Bower

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