Over the past decade we have all experienced private label products emerge as a part of the business model for many industries including pharmacies, grocery stores and department stores. Many companies without their own manufacturing base offer only private label products.
The Australasian geosynthetic industry is no different, with private label products having been offered in various forms for over a decade. However, as more distributers in the region expand their private label ranges, many engineers are now asking: what are the implications for engineering designers or contractors?
The largest companies in the global geosynthetic industry are all well-known manufacturers, including companies such as TenCate, Tensar and Maccaferri.
Their brand names inspire trust and confidence, largely due to traceability through their product supply chain – from raw material through production. Trusted brands support this transparency with reliable and accurate technical information, as well as investing in quality tools to support and enhance the industry (whether it be software, R&D, design advice or certification, trials, product enhancements etc). This is why these companies are considered leaders. By contrast there are many geosynthetic manufacturers (particularly in Asia) who only produce products, selling them to regional distributors, who in turn market these products under their own trademark. The typical business model for private label distributors is that their product is “good enough” (or at times equivalent) when compared to established branded products. The absence of a quality assured transparent and traceable manufacturing process, investment in R&D and design tools or technical support, generally provides an attractive cost proposition to clients who may not necessarily value quality.
From our experience, the decision on equivalency or fit-for-purpose rests with the designer, as they generally are accepting the risk for the design of the structure or system. A contractor who supplies a product not in compliance with the designer’s specifications voids the design and transfers all risk from designer to contractor.
This can be exacerbated by regional distributors having multiple sources of product supply. This means that an any one time, their stock of a single “product grade” could be from multiple suppliers, made to different recipes, using different raw materials etc.
In a time-constrained environment, when faced with many requests for product approvals, the key question then becomes what parameters should a designer consider when asked to approve alternatives presented by contractors, particularly when contractors are trying to optimise the product purchase cost and keep construction costs down?
The start point for understanding the validity of any Manufacturers Quality Assurance (MQA) offered by a supplier is third party ISO quality certification.
Quality certification ensures that the MQA provided for any product meets international standards and is supported by documented quality processes (which should be available for any client to review upon request). For geosynthetic manufacturers that means implementing a regime of internal audits, inter-lab audits and testing to ensure products meet or exceed their published technical parameters.
Quality assured manufacturers will also demand the same level of certification from their raw material suppliers - quality product is only as good as its component ingredients.
Product traceability adds a layer of protection for designers and contractors as it creates a link between a supplied product and its MQA data. Supplied geosynthetics should include roll labelling and identification which contractors and designers can use to trace each individual roll to the manufacturers production batch and MQA data including test results for raw materials and manufactured product. This traceability means that a designer can be sure the parameters they’ve specified are met by the product supplied to site and contractors can be sure they receive a product which meets the quality they have paid for.
We recommend that clients undertake their own CQA processes on site to validate the information provided by their supplier. After all, a supplier who fears CQA is probably a supplier you don’t want to deal with.