Working with Foreign Window Manufacturers – Tips for Success
Author: Jennifer Keegan
Vol. 113 | May 22, 2017
Architects and specifiers looking to tap into the global window and curtain wall manufacturing market as a source new products are understandably enticed by the buying power of the US Dollar in foreign markets, and the favorable price points on foreign-produced goods. For example, we recently reviewed bids from two manufacturers of steel framed curtain walls; one from an Italian manufacturer priced at $70/sf vs. another from a US manufacturer at $250-$300/sf for a similar system. That’s a big difference in upfront costs which is hard to ignore. From my involvement in the architectural glass industry, and the first-hand experience of some of our clients, those savings can be quickly eroded when language barrier issues, delivery delays, unclear quality control, and the lack of knowledge of US code requirements (leading to errors), start piling up. When the team decides the benefits outweigh the risks, acknowledge these issues from the start and plan accordingly.
Be aware of the differences in terminology. Shop drawings in Europe are the equivalent of elevation sheets in the US and do not include the details typically provided by US manufacturers. Meetings with your foreign manufacturer must be conducted in the early morning or late evening to bridge time zone differences. The technology you use to communicate can also be a factor – Skype and Go To are not always reliable. And technology cannot replace the value of face to face meetings, especially when trying to overcome language challenges.
Physical oversight is going to be a challenge. Consider the time and cost of traveling to the manufacturing plant to monitor fabrication. If you can’t get there at a crucial point in the process, what might you miss?
With less than ideal communication and oversight, (as well as shipping logistics), scheduling delays are more likely; which could have a ripple effect through your project. Sometimes to make-up time in the schedule, the order of operations gets switched around: fabrication before shop drawings, and/or installation before successful mockup. In those instances, there is limited recourse for failure-to-perform.
If the cost savings are just too attractive to pass by, there are some steps you can take that may minimize the pitfalls.
12 Tips for Success
- Educate the owner and reiterate “you get what you pay for.”
- Material cost savings can result in costly schedule delays
- Insist on keeping the logical order of the project; do not go out of sequence to make up lost time; it will end up costing you more
- Discuss US performance requirements upfront and the means for execution.
- Witness the lab testing; European standards are not equivalent to US test standards.
- Transmit electronic docs in advance of meetings so parties can review offline and overcome connectivity issues.
- Provide graphics to your manufacturer’s rep to aid remote discussions.
- Insist that the manufacturer’s rep come to the US for page-turn meetings; project kickoff; as well as mockup install and testing. Have a translator who is well versed in construction attend the meetings.
- Utilize local, US-based engineering to assure compliance with local building code requirements.
- Require successful, US-based performance mockup testing on the same assembly, which can be accomplished through previous projects with successful US based testing
- Approve shop drawings and lab testing prior to fabrication.
- Specify shipping requirements – crate loading and unloading logistics is important.
- Conduct a field mockup kickoff meeting – discuss sequencing of installation between various trades and review the performance test protocol
- Perform successful field-installed mockup prior to production installation.
Consider the risks and rewards before making the decision to use foreign manufacturers on your projects. Be sure the entire team – owner, architect, enclosure consultant, GC/CM, and window/curtain wall manufacturer – fully understand the owner’s performance requirements, budget constraints and schedule demands. If you need assistance in navigating the waters with foreign manufacturers, contact the experts in our Building Science Solutions Team at: www.intertek.com/building/building-sciences/
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