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December 20, 2016

Why The Tensile Architectural Tender Process is Floored!

Unfortunately, Tenders are a fact of life within the Tensile Architectural construction industry; but is the process actually fair, honest and does it really give the end client the best options on cost, design, quality and operational lifespan?

We all know how the tender process works, where the leading architectural firm typically provides a detailed tender package outlining the project’s design, specifications, general sizes and construction timelines. This is then forwarded to Main Contractors whom wish to quote on winning the total project. The main contractor then blindly issues an invitation to several tensile tensile companies whom they believe could fulfil the projects tensile architectural needs. This is a typical approach within the construction industry. However, it sort of gets a bit more complicated within the Tensile Architectural Industry itself; it’s not as simple as the traditional construction tender processes, due to the amounts of variables within tensile architecture design, fabrication and engineering.

First of all we have to face the facts and discuss the White Elephant in the room – Architects and Main Contractors don’t understand Tensile Architecture and most haven’t actually overseen a tensile project before. The result is they don’t have the professional knowledge or experience to specify or design tensile structural projects properly, let alone vet a tensile tender response accurately. However, it’s not their fault; Tensile Architecture is not covered in architectural design courses by any of the mainstream Universities. How many times have you or your company been called into an architectural practice, or main contractor to help with design assistance or to provide information on material specifications? Unfortunately they also expect this assistance for free; meaning, most of us aren’t able to spend the time and resources to design the project for them. This is why most tender packages issued to tensile membrane companies are based upon a design and build profile. Unfortunately this then impacts on the tender process were costs are the only thing the main contractor focuses on.

Tendering is Wasted Time

Replying to a Tender is not a quick and simple process; however, they are a necessity in modern business. Many main contractors issue the full package and expect us to sift through hundreds of pages of tender documents, for us to then find the appropriate information we need to quote on. Often we then eventually find the information found is not good enough; meaning we have to contact the projects architects to ask specific questions or provide recommendations and ask if they are acceptable. Often the architects are extremely helpful; however, on some rare occasions they are obstructive and point blank refuse to take calls.

Anyway, once you finally have found all the information or gather the limited information you able to obtain from the tender document, you then have to get your engineers to work out steel sizes and weights, get your form finders and fabricators to work out there elements and so on etc. This can take weeks. Once you have finally complied all the relevant information and associated costs, this is where it can often go off on different tangents.

Unfortunately, these issued tender documents do not state exactly what the sub-contractor must minimally quote on, nor do they reveal design and fabrication restraints. Furthermore, the vast majority of Tensile Membrane companies do not specialise in ‘or’ provide primary steelwork as part of their tender response. This all means the main contractor receives tender responses from numerous tensile companies, all with different specifications, fabrication design ideas, costs etc. Some will include elements the others don’t, others will add improved options which no one else has and some will interoperate the tender in different ways. The result is a massive variance in both services, designs, structural elements included and of course costs. However, the main contractor doesn’t really know what to look for or which company has offered the best option and design solution. Unfortunately they simply look at the bottom line……the price, regardless of what is included or excluded which has massive implications.

Why The Main Contractor is Coming Unstuck – Actual Tender Example

Recently we completed a very complex tender which included a significant element of primary structural steelwork design and installation. We were approached by four Main Contractors to provide best pricing based upon tender the package received. Two of the Tender packages forwarded to us were direct copies issued by the projects architects, the third was an amended version that was more specific and the final one was fully tailored to the ETFE tensile element, with much more detail.

With the fourth tender package providing more specific details, we prepared our tender response based around the advanced information, inclusive of Primary and Secondary Structural Steel Works, Rain Suppression, Four Layer Cushions, Solar Control and Wind Suction Cabling. In addition, we prepared an installation plan to overcome site restrictions which we had noted ourselves.

A week later we contacted the main contractors to ask for feedback on the tender which took us 3-weeks to compile. We were told by all four companies that our cost were between 20-40% more expensive than other tenders which they had received by others. With such a large cost discrepancy we asked each of the Main Contractors if our competition had included the same as we had……to our surprise they all replied with “Yes…and we are sure”. However, this proved not to be the case.

Months later, we found out who had been awarded the main contract and whom they had commissioned to fulfil the ETFE element. Unfortunately, the main contractor had not researched the sub-contractors tender response correctly and had simply chosen the one with the lowest cost – which is common place within the construction tendering process.  Had they properly read the sub-contractors tender response and understood the projects actual tensile requirements, they would have quickly realised what should have and needed to be included. Unfortunately the sub-contractors tenders wording stated inclusive of “Steelworks”, Primary Steelworks were not specified or highlighted and separated within the BOQ. In addition neither was Solar Control included or the Wind Suction Cables, which we had added into our tender package after receiving the additional information from the forth main contractor, and understanding what design elements needed to additionally added.

This was unfortunately only discovered after the JCT Contracts were put in place, putting the Main Contractor in an extremely problematic position. As a result installation works overran by several months, due to carnage issues not being picked up by the sub-contractor, and main contractor had to take a massive hit on the contract.

The end client was also left with a compromised installation resulting from the concessions the main contractor and ETFE sub-contractor agreed on to recoup on costs previously not included. When these additional costs and omissions were brought to light, our tender response was actually shown to be 12% less expense that the one which the main contractor eventually opted for. Additionally, our offer provided the end client with improved design solutions and improve operational performances, which the resulting installation did not.  We are now in direct discussions with the end client to try and solve issues caused by compromises made between the main contractor and sub-contractor, which have impacted on the usage of the space beneath.

All Tensile Tender Responses are not the same

So as you can see, The Tensile Architectural Tender Process is Floored!

With main contractors and architects not understanding tensile architecture and focusing primarily on lowest cost awarding system through tenders, our industry is doomed to continuously be promoted on cost rather design and architectural construction solutions. Furthermore, the end client will continue to suffer the most in terms of design, performance, maintenance and operational usefulness; this is unless the tender process is altered!

Working Solutions

What has been stated and outlined above is not a new problem. This has been the approach to Tensile Project tendering for years, yet lessons still aren’t being learned. This is why we at Airsculpt actively promote our Tensile Architectural Consultancy service. Our Consultancy approach allows us to focus on all tensile project elements, including Design Consultancy, Procurement Consultancy, Structural Consultancy, Cost Consultancy, Project Management and even Tender Packaging. With this approach we exclude ourselves from bidding and work directly for the architect and end client, ensuring projects are awarded on best solutions and best costs. So come on guys…..wake up and smell the coffee and stop shooting ourselves in the foot. The industry needs to work together and promote successful, operational and improved tensile architecture, not corner and cost cutting!