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By Willow Aliento
September 19, 2017
When procurement goes wrong, it can have major impacts on buildings, people, and reputations. However, there are ways to reduce the risks of non-conforming products, non-compliant use of products putting your projects in peril. Executive Officer of the Building Products Innovation Council, Rodger Hills, says contractors and builders can take “decisive action” to ensure that they are delivering products and work that meet National Construction Code standards and AS/NZ or ISO product conformance standards.
“The first priority is to read and fully understand what the NCC Evidence of Suitability requirements for products actually are under the Deemed-to-Satisfy and Performance compliance pathways, as well as what Standards are referenced by the NCC in specific applications,” he says. “If you are considering using a building product other than originally specified or requested, you need to ensure it meets the same performance and conformance requirements as the original product.”
To do that, follow a risk management process like BPIC’s resource, Substitution of Construction Products: A guide to managing product substitution. Hills says to look for products that carry third-party certification from well-known and reputable Industry Associations and authorities that comply with ISO/IEC 17065:2013 (Conformity assessment - Requirements for bodies certifying products, processes and services).
“If you intend to buy products from manufacturers or suppliers that market products as ‘own brand’, make sure they have an independently audited Quality Assurance system in place that is recognised in Australia,” he says.
If products are to be incorporated into a sub-assembly, make sure the manufacturer or supplier conducts appropriate performance testing of the sub-assembly to prove their product still performs to specifications in the combined configuration. Actually, in some cases, such as facade assemblies, this may also be a requirement under the NCC.
“Be suspicious of product certification documents that are more than three years old, that contain spelling errors and poor English, that lack official stamps or official seals, that use a variety of fonts, or that use informal or inaccurate language,” Hills says.
If a product is JAS-ANZ (Joint Accreditation System of Australia and New Zealand) certified, keep in mind that there are seven levels of certification and the higher the level, the more rigorous the requirements are for product manufacturers.
“Insist on concise, detailed, and Plain English installation procedures,” Hills says. He claims you should also insist on reliable installers that can demonstrate familiarity with the products you want to use and can show evidence of proper product installation training from the manufacturer or supplier.
“Where a specifier has documented a product and used the words ‘or equivalent’, insist that they clarify what the performance and durability requirements of an equivalent product should be – don’t guess or the responsibility becomes yours if it fails.”
Hills reminds about the importance of reading the product warranty. That way you’ll to understand under what circumstance you will and won’t be able to make a claim if anything goes wrong, remembering that “if there is no Australian distributor, the warranty is probably not worth the paper it is written on”. Look for experienced and easy-to-contact local technical support from the manufacturer or supplier. If things go wrong on site, you need someone with real depth of product application experience to call on during business hours and, preferably, in real-time.
“If you have the time, check out the supplier’s premises either in person or via Google Earth,” Hills says. “Get a feel for how financially viable the supplier is, in the case something goes wrong and you want to make a warranty claim, return or exchange goods, or buy accessories.”
The Australasian Procurement and Construction Council has developed some valuable best practice guides for procurement. These include Procurement of Construction Products – a guide to achieving compliance, which was developed by a working group from across the industry, including BPIC, Engineers Australia, the Australian Institute of Architects, Housing Industry Association, Australian Institute of Building, Standards Australia, and the Australian Building Codes Board.
Product conformity is not the only risk it is important to address.
According to Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Supply Chain Sustainability School, Robin Mellon, when visibility and transparency in the construction supply chain are improved, it becomes possible to start eradicating many of the supply chain “negatives”and enables contractors to start eliminating inefficiencies.
“When you look at increasing visibility, you can see where too many people have touched a product, and the supply chain is inefficient,”says Mellon. Having all procurement coming from “the one basket” can also mean a serious issue with one element can end up affecting the entire end product in terms of quality and reputation.
Looking for diversity in procurement is key.
Mellon says that supply chains “don’t change overnight”. The leaders are the ones who set a date by which they will have eliminated a specific risk or practice from their supply chain or embraced a new approach, for example a specific percentage of local or Indigenous procurement.
He says it’s important not to underestimate the power of large government contracts to change supply chains, for example by stipulating a maximum kilometre radius for sourcing, or a set threshold for Indigenous procurement.
This is what markets react to, he says. It can lead to the wider industry changing its standards and influencing supply chains positively. The same shift can be stimulated by a major project such as Lendlease’s Barangaroo or the North West Rapid Transit project, where strict environmental and social requirements are being applied.
The Supply Chain Sustainability School has a range of free resources, including training, templates, and case studies. They concern many of the key aspects of best practice procurement. Membership of the School is free, and provides access to an on-line self-assessment tool across ten key areas of sustainability, access to resources and webinars, and an individual 10-point Action Plan for supply chain improvement.
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