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Four Ways to Pre-Qualify the Quality of Roof Systems
By Melissa A. Rus

In a tough economy, both manufacturers and customers are tempted to cut corners when it comes to quality.

From the manufacturer’s perspective, reducing the cost of raw materials is the easiest way to improve shrinking margins. However, altering key raw materials poses a significant performance risk, frequently precipitating production and/or field failures.

From the customer’s perspective, quality is too frequently an out-of-sight, out-of-mind consideration. When competition is fierce, it’s easy for customers to push back on pricing without applying due diligence to ensure that cost comparisons are being made on an apples-to-apples basis. Two “or equal” products may perform quite differently in application, according to the quality of the raw materials used.

This article is intended to help building owners, architects, and facility managers pre-qualify the quality of roofing materials to ensure the lasting integrity of rooftop waterproofing solutions.

Stable Supplier Relationships
Verifying that product manufacturers have strong and stable supplier relationships, particularly in regards to those raw materials most directly responsible for rooftop performance, is an essential first step in pre-qualifying a roofing partner.

What those raw materials are will differ according to the type of system you are considering. For standing seam metal, you’ll want to look at the source of the steel or aluminum; for modified bitumen, you’ll want to investigate not only the source of the asphalt or coal tar base, but also the source of those modifiers and scrim materials that impart critical performance characteristics to the finished roof.

The easiest way to verify a manufacturer’s capabilities in this regard is to choose a manufacturer with an effective quality management program in place, such as ISO 9001. As part of the ISO commitment to continuous quality improvement, manufacturers are required to establish procedures, which can be independently audited, to evaluate their suppliers and the quality of the products they provide.

The market for many of the raw materials used to produce roofing products continues to be extremely volatile. Strong supplier relationships enable manufacturers to have open discussions about pricing to the benefit of all parties, ensuring supplier cooperation when raw material supplies are threatened.

Access to Alternative Suppliers
Just as you would not write a specification that only one manufacturer could fulfill, you should not use a manufacturer who is dependent on only one supplier for critical raw materials. Raw materials are the life blood for a manufacturer of any product. An interruption in the supply of key raw materials can shut down production instantaneously. There will be times when even the most stable supplier relationship cannot guarantee delivery. Having access to alternate suppliers is crucial to quality-conscious organizations.

Sourcing, evaluating, and approving alternate raw materials is not a simple task. Manufacturers interested in maintaining consistent product quality must vet alternate raw materials with the same scrutiny used for their preferred suppliers. That means treating every alternate raw material as a new product development project. This takes time and resources, but offers an insurance policy that is worth the investment. By actually completing all phases of the design development process using an alternate raw material, a manufacturer validates that it is equal to the standard raw material in regards to quality and long-term performance.

Making sure that the manufacturers whose products you are considering have at least two qualified suppliers – not only available, but approved for use – is essential to ensuring reliable delivery of quality materials at a fair price.

Innovative Partnerships
Innovative manufacturer/supplier partnerships help ensure customers that the products they are evaluating take advantage of the latest product and process technologies. Many new technologies are born from strong supplier relationships, which inspire collaborative ideas. Manufacturers who can demonstrate lasting, stable supplier partnerships are more likely to keep you at the cutting edge of innovation, since such relationships encourage and facilitate co-development and cost-reduction programs.

Innovative companies are always looking for new and better ways to add value to the products they produce in hopes of customer recognition and increased sales. Being innovative does not always mean new products. Manufacturers also look at cost-reducing innovations, which might involve utilizing recycled or unusual materials to produce their products. Stable, secure supplier relationships are critical to ongoing innovation because such suppliers realize that the manufacturer’s success increases their own.

Quality Assurance Programs
At the end of the day, what matters most to the customer is the quality of the products being delivered to their job site. This is what manufacturer quality assurance programs are designed to do – verify that products meet or exceed customer expectations. Such programs involve activities that focus on controlling and regulating the processes and materials used in manufacturing products. They are designed to prevent defective materials from entering the workplace. If a problem with a product does arise in the field, quality assurance programs also help with problem analysis, guiding a manufacturer’s efforts to identify the source of a problem and to develop corrective action plans to prevent recurrence.

Finding out what kind of quality assurance program a roofing manufacturer has in place will increase your chances for success. Keep in mind that the more comprehensive the program, the more reliable the solution. For example, ISO 9001-2000 monitors not only a manufacturer’s ability to meet pre-established standards for quality in the research and production of products, but extends those standards to encompass quality control in respect to the raw materials supplied and the services rendered, increasing the likelihood of customer satisfaction over the life-cycle of the roofing solution provided.

As an added bonus, ISO required continuous monitoring of data by research and development groups and production teams enables manufacturers to pin point process changes, thereby leading to process improvements that can increase productivity, which, in turn, can help control product costs.

Businesses exist to make a profit. But short-sighted decisions made by customers and manufacturers under the duress of a tight economy are a virtual guarantee of premature rooftop failure. In good times and bad, validating a manufacturer’s commitment to quality is a critical step towards ensuring lasting rooftop performance.

About the Author: As a member of ASTM International, Melissa A. Rus is involved with the development of appropriate testing standards for the roofing industry. She participates in the Roof Coating Manufacturers Association (RCMA) and the Cool Roof Rating Council (CRRC), to keep abreast with the continually evolving regulatory environment. As research and development manager of Cleveland-based The Garland Company, Inc., a manufacturer of high-performance solutions for the building envelope, Rus is part of the research and development team involved in the advancement of polymer roofing technologies. She holds a bachelor's degree in biology from John Carroll University.

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