POWER Engineers

Should owners and engineering teams develop purchase specifications in order to tell equipment manufacturers how to build their machines? No, in most cases, the manufacturers have been designing that machine for years and have forgotten more about its design than you will ever know. The reason you write a purchase specification is to clearly define what you want from a machine so you and the manufacturer can easily agree upon what you’ve requested, what you’re getting, and what you’re paying for.

In effect, the specification is a checklist that, if written well, leaves little room for disagreement, even when it comes to the smallest details. Owner/vendor relationships can easily break down when assumptions are made and both parties are not on the same page; the fault is usually an innocent oversight, not an intentional action. Developing proper equipment purchase specifications ensures everyone is on the same page and that what you want is what you get.

Say a salesman shows up at your door — possibly you met at a trade show. He shows you his brochures and reviews the equipment’s technical specifications. Even though the machine has been designed to process bars of soap, it looks like it would handle baked goods in a similar manner and could be exactly what you need. Unfortunately, even though the size and shape of the soap bars are the same as your product, the equipment has been designed for the soap industry, not the baking industry. In response, the salesman assures you the machine can be built to meet Baking Industry Sanitation Standards Committee (BISSC) equipment design standards, and, convinced by his presentation, you write the purchase order.

Once the process is underway, you have a couple of meetings and communicate some specific requirements for the machine, including a request for “XYZ Brand” motors (the brand stocked in your warehouse). The salesman agrees to your requirements and indicates that he doesn’t foresee any problem incorporating them. Six months later, the machine is ready for delivery, but is it what you discussed? Were the verbal specifications and standards understood? Were the right motors incorporated? Chances are, what you were expecting is not what you are going to get.

Though the aforementioned events may sound unlikely, this type of breakdown in communication occurs more often than you might think. Avoiding it is simple: It comes down to the development of a structured equipment specification document.

A good equipment purchase specification will describe the anticipated function of the machine. What is it going to do? The specification should identify the industry standards and regulatory requirements that the manufacturer will need to adhere to. A good purchase specification needs to call out all of the performance expectations and detail how the machine will need to interact with the adjacent processes. It needs to describe specific parts and standards that the manufacturer must consider in order to meet your specific need.

Remember, your goal is to take advantage of a base design and by working with the manufacturer, ensure that it will meet your specific application. It’s also important to find the right balance of detail when writing specifications. If you over-specify every part and piece you will be creating a highly customized machine that could easily wind up costing far more then you expected. Avoid overdesigning; the last thing you want to do is create a one-of-a-kind machine that may cause you problems when it comes to future maintenance and spare parts.

The last thing that a good purchase specification needs is a sign-off sheet. If the author calls for motors made by a specific company (e.g. “XYZ Brand” motors), there should be a place for the manufacturer to sign off that those motors will be supplied. This part of the sign-off sheet should also indicate what the up-charge for the change is. A sign-off sheet should cover each line item called for in the specification so there is no question whether the document has been read and agreed to in its entirety.

Also, do not assume that the industry design standards (in this example case, those of BISSC) are completely understood by the manufacturer. Take the time to discuss them with the vendor to make sure he is comfortable with what they entail and why they need to be followed.

In summary, remember:

  • Don’t tell a machine builder how to build a machine; tell them what you need the machine to do and why.
  • Clarify industry standards that the equipment needs to meet.
  • Tell them the specifics of materials and finishes.
  • Detail the level of control, monitoring and interface that you need.
  • Ask for all changes in writing.
  • Review the entire specification with the manufacturer’s engineering staff before purchase. Having the technical team on board will ensure your requirements are understood and your specifications are implemented.
  • Request progress reviews at 30% and 70% of the manufacturing process.
  • Schedule a trip for Factory Acceptance Testing (FAT). The FAT process provides you with the opportunity to review your equipment from top to bottom. Do not take this lightly. It is not a social junket; it is hard work and focus is important. Have a checklist in hand and do not be afraid to ask questions.

Your equipment is an expensive investment, and getting it right is worth the time and effort.

This story is sponsored by POWER Engineers, which has one of the most comprehensive teams of engineers and specialists serving the baking and snack industry. As an extension of its clients' engineering teams, the company provides program management, integrated solutions and full facility design for the baking and snack industry. Learn more at www.powereng.com/food.