Buying Thermal Processing Equipment - Part Three: Developing Project Specifications

In this third column in the "Purchasing Power" series, learn which information is most important to include in your project specifications, how to differentiate between critical and desirable capabilities, and how to establish a reasonable and meaningful way to measure specification compliance.

After you've developed an internal project strategy, it's time to start creating your specifications.

Types of Specifications

There are two specifications you should create that will help you communicate your needs to the project team and potential suppliers, and then manage the project to a successful conclusion.

1. An external technical specification provides the details necessary by potential suppliers to properly bid on the project.

2. An internal project specification includes the external technical specification, with the addition of business and other information that is helpful for managers and team members, but will not be shared with potential suppliers.

Specifications might be brief or lengthy, depending on the nature of your project. The quality of specifications is not a function of documentation mass-superior specifications concisely communicate clearly defined project requirements and measures of performance.

Specification Content

Three types of issues should be addressed and balanced in a comprehensive project specification:
  • Process issues that directly affect successful product manufacturing
  • Production issues such as capacity and operational considerations
  • Business issues such as budget, schedule, project management, risk mitigation, etc.
A technical specification should contain all of your process and production requirements, with the addition of your schedule requirements. This document will be the basis for proposals generated by potential suppliers. All remaining business issues should be included in the project specification, which will be used internally to evaluate proposals and manage the project.

All key project issues should be established and documented with sufficient detail in the following areas:

  • Critical parameters
  • Window of acceptable performance
  • Qualification methods
  • Desirable but non-crucial capabilities
  • Future considerations
Critical parameters are those that are essential to the success of the project. If your process, production or business needs absolutely require specific performances, these must be clearly stated.

Example: A part in the furnace must soak at 1350 degrees C for 75 minutes.

Then, describe the window (or range) of acceptable performance.

Example: Temperature accuracy and uniformity at soak must be +/- 10 degrees C.

How will this capability be demonstrated? Describe the testing criteria.

Example: Calibrated thermocouples at nine points on the surface of the part.

What would you like the system to be capable of (if it can be justified) that is not critical to the success of the project, but would provide additional valuable benefits?

Example:Temperature accuracy and uniformity at soak of +/-3 degrees C.

Lastly, what future considerations may have an impact on how you specify the equipment at present?

Example: May eventually interface with automated loading/unloading robot.

By addressing your needs in this manner, you will be able to gather helpful information from potential suppliers that will enable you to make effective decisions. Your firm requirements will be clearly established, as will the manner in which compliance will be verified. Proposals will be easier to compare and evaluate. Optional improvements should be priced separately to aid in the justification of additional capital investment. And future considerations can also be properly addressed from an early stage without getting them entangled in critical requirements.

Specification Compliance Verification

A compliance test description is often overlooked in a specification, but it can become an area of difficulty if not addressed early on. In most cases, equipment suppliers do not guarantee the success of your process. What they should guarantee is that equipment supplied will meet specific performance criteria. If these criteria are met, then you must be confident that your project will be successful. Properly communicating this information provides a useful framework for a good working relationship.

Some aspects of a specification are easy to verify, such as physical size, number of zones, etc. Those that are more difficult are related to process control. If you don't have much experience in this area, then one of the best ways to learn which testing methodologies are most appropriate for your needs is to ask several equipment suppliers how they typically demonstrate compliance. As you weigh this input with your needs, you will develop a better understanding of testing methods that are both reasonable and effective.

Process Heating Equipment Issues

A summary of typical process, production, and business issues follows to aid in your specification development. Adapt the list as needed to address your specific needs and issues.

Process Issues

  • Starting physical and chemical properties of the product
  • Load dimensions, including product, supports, boats, etc.
  • Detailed description of all process control parameters
  • Process chemistry that must be compatible with the equipment
  • Ending physical and chemical properties of product
  • Complete description and quantity of emissions
  • Any special considerations that affect process success
Production Issues
  • Intended schedule for equipment operation
  • Production volume requirements based on this schedule
  • Other systems that will be integrated with this equipment
  • Specific hardware and software requirements
  • Standard equipment specification data
  • Physical space and weight limitations that apply to the equipment
  • Utility preferences and availability
  • Any special considerations that affect production success
Business Issues
  • Project schedule requirements
  • Budget information, including values established in the previous step
  • Qualification testing issues
  • Project team creation and division of responsibility
  • Intermediate and final approvals
  • Any special considerations that affect project success

Evaluating the Effectiveness of Your Specifications

To gauge the effectiveness of your specifications, ask yourself the following questions:
  • Does the specification properly address every key project objective and measure of success?
  • Are all measures of success reasonable, and how will they be demonstrated?
  • If all measures are successfully achieved, will the project be successful?
When you are satisfied that your technical specification and project specification are effective, you are ready to begin sourcing and qualifying potential suppliers. This topic will be addressed in my next column.

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