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April 3 - April 7, 2017

When a specification requires Manufacturer X’s system “or equivalent,” what does "or equivalent" mean, and who decides what’s equivalent?

Selected Answers

From Josh Skinner of The Sherwin-Williams Company on April 10, 2017:
I would encourage everyone on the thread to click the link below and watch the presentation titled "Test Results - NOT Black and White Data, Extremely Gray Information". The information presented will be valuable for owners, engineers, specifiers, and applicators when comparing coatings based on test data.

From Kevin Keith of LiRo Engineers, Inc. on April 7, 2017:
Most agencies are required to put "or equivalent" when specifying a product to allow competition in the bid and to prevent favoritism, so as long as we have prescriptive specifications for specific materials we will have this challenge of determining equivalency. A better way to write the specifications is to provide performance specifications to dictate what needs to be achieved by the product. This requires a designer who really knows coatings. Just cutting and pasting from a data sheet is not preparing a performance specification. As a resident engineer on coating projects, I have been faced with the "or equivalent" decision. In one case, the specified product was from an English manufacturer and all of the performance characteristics listed in the specification were from ISO Testing. American products didn't match because they were tested to ASTM and specific DOT standards. After determining what we really needed. doing some metric conversions, and checking the test standards, the American products met the intent of the designer and provided the performance the owner wanted. On another project, the specifications for bird netting were cut and pasted from the data sheet. A substitute netting didn't meet the "requirement" of being flexible to a very low temperature. This product was only being used during the summer, so the "requirement" wasn't actually needed. What was needed was a net with specific size openings and webbing with a certain strength. The substitute met those requirements. Ultimately, the designer should make the "or equivalent" decision, but they should be open (and encourage) the input of the contractor and/or inspector. That input is critical, because, usually, it is not a simple "apples" to "apples" comparison.

From kent webster of corrosion control corp on April 7, 2017:
My company has been painting water storage tanks since 1968. During that time, the most frustrating reality has been the fact the painting applicator has very little say in whose paint products get applied on the water tank. This has always seemed very odd to me since it is the application contractor who has to warranty for the performance of the paints applied. Based upon my 45+ years of application experience, not all paint manufacturers' products are equally user friendly. It's my opinion, if the painter applying the product has a good comfort level with the products he has to apply, the end result will most likely be the desired result, a good job. The wear and tear on the paint equipment is also a significant component in the success of the painting project. I'll never understand why the painting company applying the paint has so little say in whose products get used on any given water tank. When it comes down to warranties for the work, it is not the engineer or the paint manufacturer who is responsible, it is the applicator.

From Warren Brand of Chicago Corrosion Group on April 6, 2017:
The only entity that should be choosing a corrosion mitigation system (typically paint) is the owner or a vendor-neutral, highly technically competent consulting firm as the owner's representative and advocate. Any other procurement process relies on self-interested parties to provide recommendations, which is fraught with conflict and risk. And I don't believe there's any data to support that lab, or accelerated testing, or any other type of testing will accurately determine if materials are "equivalent" and, more importantly, provide an accurate indication of real world, long-term performance.

From David Boyd of Vulcan Painters, Inc on April 6, 2017:
The owner or engineer is the deciding entity.

From Michael Harrison of Hempel on April 6, 2017:
It is so complicated and the waters are muddied by nomenclature. Epoxy phenolic, pure epoxy and similar terms mean absolutely nothing. It is important to know exactly what performance is required from any scheme, then a quality solution can be propoosed, providing the supplier can give you the scheme you need based on requirements, NOT what a product is called.

From Michael Quaranta of OPERATIONS 40 on April 5, 2017:
The best thing to do is review the Code Committee and the "consensus" vote to see how high on the list was the specified manufacturer to see if they might not meet their own equivalent standard.

From Michael Halliwell of Thurber Engineering Ltd. on April 5, 2017:
It depends on the industry and what's being specified. For an environmental liner, it's easy. You can specify one manufacturer's product and there are spec sheets for it. If the contractor wants to use something else, they need to prove that it meets the same specs or is better. In coatings, it may not be quite so easy. There are a lot more variables to account for.

From trevor neale of TF Warren Group on April 5, 2017:
This is a mine field! Unless we know the precise condition the coating must endure or aesthetics required, making a call of equivalency is risky and should be avoided whenever possible unless at least three parties, as stated by Steve, agree.

From Warren Brand of Chicago Corrosion Group on April 5, 2017:
We won't write specs which have the phrase "or equivalent." Our client, typically the owner, can add the phrase, but I won't. I had a meeting a few years back with one of the largest transit authorities in the world on the East Coast. I was conducting a peer-review of their specifications, which had similar phrasing. I tried explaining the substantial risk associated with the phrase, but it wasn't working. So I used the following analogy, which seemed to work. The situation is you have children in grade school and the school is looking for a supplier of chocolate chip cookies. If you don't specify a specific brand, to the exclusion of all others, and put in the phrase "or equivalent." By doing so, you've just incentivized every supplier to provide your children with the cheapest, least costly cookies possible - in order to win the contract. Is that a win? Is that in the best interest of the children? I agree with Mr. Narayanan that a performance-based interpretation of the phrase is better. However, in a procurement world where a 1-year warranty is standard, there remains no incentive for material suppliers to provide optimal materials. Our industry has defaulted to "suitable" materials, which are in the best interest of everyone but the owner. Identification of optimal materials should become the new standard.....

First let me clarify: "or equivalent" means the system adaptable should fulfill "THE PERFORMANCE PROPERTIES OF A SELECTED SYSTEM OF COATINGS" as per the specification mentioned by a reputed institution which understands the basic requirements  of that coating system. If Y or Z system fulfills the qualities as required by the customer, then it can be termed that Y & Z are equivalent to X. There are third-party inspectors who can establish the equivalence of a system after basic trials conducted on samples. If the customer is well equipped with material and human resources at his organization, he can justify equivalence by studying the technical data sheets provided by coating manufacturers of X , Y or Z. I hope this satisfies the problem.

From Steve Brunner of WPC Technologies on April 3, 2017:
In the grand scheme of things, the decision is to be made by the contractor, end user/owner, and the inspector. This decision should be made on the best available information. However, there are instances where one person makes the decision based solely on cost or manufacturer favoritism with little regard to performance.

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Tagged categories: Coating Materials; Coating selection; Specification; Specification writing

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