The sentence I’m talking about is the one that says something like, “All materials in the Main Control Cubicle shall be (insert brand here)”. I see this a lot; Strict requirements set out for use of site standard brands. It’s like a self-imposed non-competition clause on materials.

A tender package for an additive manufacturer landed on my desk this week. It’s not dissimilar to a project for a chemical manufacturer we worked on last year. Both hazardous areas, both large scale installations, both sophisticated engineering design. But the project specifications were very different. One approach causes the cost of the electrical component to skyrocket and the other saves the client some serious cheddar. To borrow a line from the superannuation commercial, lets Compare The Pair.

Today’s documentation stipulates Schneider for virtually everything, and only Allen Bradley for the PLC. Last year’s afforded flexibility to quote prices based on performance and suitability. For example, a contactor must last for 1,000,000 actuations or cable ties must be 4.8mm wide and 316 stainless steel. It meant we could seek multiple prices to get the best value for money.

We ended up using a Siemens PLC and sprecher + schuh switch gear. The price from Allen Bradley for the PLC was 100k more expensive. Schneider switchgear was roughly 20k more expensive. It adds up.

Sometimes you’ll need to stipulate the brand. It may not make sense to install an Omron PLC if the rest of the facility has Siemens. And fair enough. But if you can, offer a couple of options; sprecher + schuh or Schneider switchgear are both high quality and the alternative injects some competition into your price.

Locking yourself into one brand will indeed ensure certainty around quality. But it can be expensive. On the flip side, some flexibility can save thousands. And if you’re handing out specifications to reputable contractors, it’s unlikely they will quote some obscure brand that is impossible to service. My best advice is to collaborate with people who have experience using the materials day-in, day-out. We know which brands cause headaches and which stand the test of time.