One of the most important questions a precaster can ask is: “Can I actually make this product to meet project specifications?” Many times, contractors request pricing at the last second before a project is let, and they don’t provide all the necessary project information to the producer. They may provide a couple of plan sheets or maybe just some quantities, and then ask for a price.

As a precaster, you may think of it as simply providing a few structures, a couple hundred feet of pipe, or a short retaining wall. So you get the job and start the submittal process, and everything is fine until the submittal comes back stamped “REJECTED!” Then you find out that the structures require a special additive that will more than double your costs, the pipe requires a special design with a joint you can’t produce, or the wall you quoted doesn’t meet the structural requirements of the project. Now what? Now you are stuck between concrete and a hard place.

Fully understanding the project plans, specifications, and expectations of the owner are key to your success. When assessing a project, you need to look at four things: standards, specifications, special provisions, and plan documents.

  • Standards: A technical standard is an established norm or requirement with regard to technical systems. It is usually a formal document that establishes uniform engineering or technical criteria, methods, processes, and practices. Examples of technical standards are ASTM, ASCE, ACI, or AASHTO. They are national or international requirements that set minimum benchmarks to ensure a product or process is uniform no matter where it is built or who is building it. Just because a product meets a standard does not mean it is a superior product or process. It simply means a group of people got together and agreed to certain requirements that it must meet. An example of this is Orangeburg Pipe. Never heard of it? Do a Google search.
  • Specifications: A specification is an explicit set of requirements to be satisfied by a material, design, product, or service. Specifications are generally developed and implemented by agencies or manufacturers to ensure that products or processes meet local requirements. For example, all state DOTs must follow AASHTO standards at a minimum, but each state DOT has its own book of specifications that all construction projects must meet. These specifications vary from state to state to meet the desires and needs of the individual areas they serve, and they are uniform across the state. Many specifications are performance-based and specific to local conditions and environments. Specifications most often reference standards as minimum requirements, and then build upon them to ensure local expectations are met.
  • Special provisions: Special provisions are project-specific. They are part of the bid package and are usually developed and included by the design engineer or architect. Special provisions build upon or change specifications. A city’s specifications may allow for many different types of materials for sewer pipe. They may determine that on a specific project, reinforced concrete pipe is the only permitted material. In this instance, the contractor and pipe manufacturer would have to follow the standards, specifications and special provisions.
  • Plan documents: Project plans are the drawings, schematics, and details used to construct the project. Plans not only show locations, dimensions, and details, but often they also contain notes and more detailed directions for individual product construction and manufacturing. Plans generally are what most precasters look to when they quote and build their products.

The four sections above and the terms and conditions should be consulted for each project you bid or quote to ensure you can actually manufacture the product. Generally, there is a hierarchy for each of the documents: plans supersede special provisions, which supersede specifications, which supersede standards. This level of understanding is important, because sometimes the sections contain conflicting information. Remember, if you can’t get a question answered during the bidding process, at least understand and be prepared to defend the document that served as a basis for your bid.