Some of the most frustrating instances of working your way through the plans and specifications can be when the design engineer has copied one section from a previous project, while the specification or special provision is relevant to the current project. Some specifiers, believe it or not, may not have read or do not understand the standards they reference. They reference them because their firm has always referenced them. Here are some examples of this:

  • An engineer requires vacuum testing of storm manholes with under-drains connected to them. If under-drains are connected to the structure, it is designed to take on groundwater. The purpose of a vacuum test is to make sure that a structure is leak-free and won’t allow any groundwater in.
  • PVC joint specifications, testing. and acceptance requirements are applied to reinforced concrete pipes.
  • Concrete for underground pipe and manhole structures is required to meet the architectural specification, which is usually quite different from that of a utility structure spec.

It is important for the designer to understand that just changing a standard or specification for the same product can greatly affect the availability and price. The more specialized the project is, the more careful the reviewer should be.

Why is all of this important and why should you care? Risk and liability! If you quote or bid a project, the engineer and owner expect that you can make the product to their requirements. If they specify an ASTM C361 confined groove joint, then that is what they expect. If you don’t have the equipment to produce it, you will all want to know that right up front. This is why it is important that all of your sales force and estimators understand your production capabilities.

Get proactive

What are some pre-emptive ways to ensure that your local owners and engineers are specifying to your capabilities? Get to know them first. Provide a Lunch and Learn to every engineer you can, talking about precast and your capabilities. Stay in touch with the design community and ask about upcoming projects. Offer to review their plans and specifications before they let the bid.

Getting to know your local engineering community is the most proactive thing you can do to affect your business. How do you go about this? Attend your local ASCE monthly meetings. Get involved with local professional associations like the Ironworkers Employers Association or American Institute of Architects. Make sure everyone at these events knows what you do and sees you as a peer and resource.

More than 30 states now require continuing education requirements for engineers and architects. Use the contacts you make at professional events to call local engineers and offer to educate them about precast products and how to specify them. More than likely they will accept. You can download Lunch and Learn presentations from the National Precast Concrete Association’s website that can serve as a good starting point for your own presentation.

Once you have established relationships and proven that you can be a resource, stay in contact with the community. You can usually find one or two good contacts in each office that will work closely with you. Visit their offices every now and then to drop off a new product information sheet or the widget you’re handing out to customers. While there, ask what they are working on or if they have any upcoming projects. Mention that you would be happy to take a look at the plans and specifications to review them for constructability with regard to precast. Looking at the plans before the bid is let will help them deliver a better product to their customers by reducing the number of questions during the bidding process. The more precise their plans and specs are, the better their bid price will be.

Though making changes to national standards is a difficult process, influencing change to local specifications and special provisions is an attainable goal. Working closely with your engineering community can help them understand your capabilities and help you understand their expectations. When both sides understand and agree on what the finished product should be, everyone wins.

This article originally appeared in Precast Inc., July/August, 2013, published by the National Precast Concrete Association. For an archive of similar articles and other precast concrete industry news, please visit