3-Part Specifications are written documents required for North American construction projects. Design teams invest time in writing specification documents to communicate their design intent and vision to the contractors on the project. Specifications may include specific products that are required to be faithful to the design vision, though there are ways to substitute specified products for other products.
Building product manufacturers recognize that being named in project specifications dramatically increases their chances of having their products included in a construction project. Manufacturers have several options for making it easier for design teams to specify their products. These options have different benefits and drawbacks. This article will discuss the spectrum of options available for communicating their product specifications to design teams, including the new EasySpec AI program from CADdetails.
Product Data Sheets
Many manufacturers create data sheets for their products. These are also referred to as Spec Sheets or Cut Sheets. These document the attributes and features of the product and quickly convey technical information about dimensions, colors, and materials. Images, marketing verbiage, drawings, product options, and performance data are often included. They may also include information about safety and reference standards testing, and certifications.
There are clear benefits to creating these sheets. The information can be communicated clearly and quickly, and the sheets can be used by any number of construction industry professionals as well as project Owners. The manufacturer’s own product experts can create these sheets without special training or expertise beyond their product knowledge. There are no standards or requirements in the industry for what is to appear in a product data-sheet.
However, there are major drawbacks to data sheets when they are not offered alongside 3-Part Specifications. While data sheets can be a handy resource, a design team that aims to include a product in their project specifications cannot quickly adapt a data sheet for use in their projects. Rather, they would need to create a 3-Part specification section specific to the product or system or incorporate the product into an existing specification section. Data sheets can assist this process by providing a quick reference for specification writers, but the designer still needs to write the specification. This may be a competitive disadvantage if a design team is reviewing similar products for a project, and one has well-written guide specifications while the other has only data sheets. The time savings offered by the guide specification can be enough to specify the product with the preferred documentation.
3-Part Specifications are written to conform to the requirements of the Construction Specification Institute (CSI) and Construction Specifications Canada (CSC). The organizational format makes finding required information simple and encourages a standardized mode of communication for project requirements. Writing these documents requires training and expertise, and the work is time-consuming.
Manufacturers offer 3-Part specifications to make it easier for architects and designers to specify their products. Well-written specifications save design teams time, and that can make a difference in which products get specified. Well-written specifications communicate design information in a familiar format for the design community, make it easier for manufacturers’ products to be included in a construction project manual, and provide manufacturers with a competitive advantage. They also communicate product features that set products apart from the competition and thereby protect them from substitution.
Below we discuss three types of specifications manufacturers may consider for their products; product-specific specifications, guide specifications, and EasySpec AI-generated specifications.
Manually prepared specifications for manufacturers are typically written as guide specifications or single product-specific specifications. Product-specific specifications are written such that each product has its own 3-Part specification document associated with it. Manufacturers with only a single product or product line may choose to opt for simple product-specific specifications.
If a manufacturer offers only a single product with no variations or options, a guide specification may not be needed. Part 2, which covers product information, would be straightforward and require little to no editing by the design team. This offers an appealing simplicity.
However, some building product manufacturers opt to have specifications written for each product even when they have hundreds of products. This approach has disadvantages associated with it as managing hundreds of files can be difficult, not just for the manufacturer but for designers as well. As updates to products and MasterFormat® are released, updating hundreds of documents is cumbersome. They also likely miss out on being included in the firm’s office master specifications, which is a benefit to 3-Part guide specifications.
These 3-Part specifications are referred to as “guide specifications” because they literally guide designers through the required product options and choices. Guide specifications include notes to the specifier or architect that draw attention to various decisions that need to be made when preparing specifications for a specific construction project. In addition to specifier notes, square brackets are also used to call attention to specific options such as finishes, colors, and fabric selections. Specifier notes and square brackets are standard ways to communicate options in Guide Specifications according to the CSI and CSC recommendations, and design teams are accustomed to their use. The more product types, collections, and product options available, the more likely Guide Specifications should be considered. For example, a manufacturer of three stone veneer lines may offer several different colors and stone cut options for each line. All options can be included in a single guide specification section. For the guide specification to be effective, it should be easy to read and use and adhere to PageFormat™ as recommended by the CSI and CSC.
A major advantage to guide specifications is the potential to be included in a firm’s office master specifications. Most architectural firms maintain their own office master specifications. These specifications can be used over and over in multiple projects. If manufacturers provide architects and design professionals with well-written 3-Part guide specifications, they may end up incorporated into an office’s library of office master specifications and used by multiple designers in a range of projects. If a manufacturer has a vast product offering detailed within their guide specification, all of those products become part of the firm's office master specifications. On the other hand, if a manufacturer provides only specifications tailored to a single product, its usefulness in a master specification library is limited, and the chance to create opportunities for the specification of other products has been lost.
The drawback to written 3-part specifications is the time and expertise required to write them. Manufacturers do not usually have a qualified person on staff and need to outsource the writing of their specifications which comes with a cost. As products change or undergo additional testing, the documents need to be appropriately updated.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is increasingly becoming part of the construction industry, and specifications are no exception. CADdetails recognizes that while building product manufacturers need 3-Part specifications, the time and cost involved can be a barrier. CADdetails is currently launching the EasySpec AI Beta program which invites select partnered manufacturers to enhance their specification library at a reduced cost. CADdetails has developed EasySpec AI to streamline the creation of 3-Part specifications and generate 3-Part specifications instantly using the manufacturer’s existing documentation. The EasySpec AI documents integrate seamlessly with manufacturers’ CADdetails profiles and gain participating manufacturers exposure to the AEC community.
These specifications will be product-specific, rather than guide specifications. The process of creating the specifications will be straightforward for the manufacturer and will result in 3-part specifications based on their own existing product information. They will be reviewed by the CADdetails in-house specification team. The benefits of this service include quickly generated specifications and cost savings.
There are limitations to the EasySpec AI-generated specifications when compared to guide specifications. They will be limited to a single product, so manufacturers with many products will likewise have many specifications. Unlike the guide specifications created through the CADdetails specification writing services, there will not be multiple rounds of revisions available to manufacturers. The input sources will be limited so the amount of information included will also be limited to those included sources.
Communicating product information efficiently to design teams is key to getting specified. Product data sheets, 3-Part specifications, and EasySpec AI-generated specifications all serve to save architects and designers time when specifying building product manufacturers’ products.