What to Look for When Vetting RFP Responses from Structural Asset Suppliers
With Edison Electric Institute (EEI) member companies expected to invest an additional $89 billion in transmission infrastructure through 2021, there’s been a significant migration to engineered steel products for utility and lighting companies all over the country.
This kind of growth requires input from various stakeholders across engineering, finance, and operations departments. Additionally, these companies will need to implement new processes and protocols for procuring the assets.
By taking a smart, strategic approach to procurement, you’ll ensure the structures you specify, purchase, and install are built with the highest quality standards. This quality assurance helps minimize the risk and liability of future structural failures and the cost of subsequent transmission, substation, distribution, and lighting asset repairs and replacements.
Strategic procurement starts with how you vet fabricator RFP responses. Here are a few things to consider when you start reviewing submissions.
What to Look for in RFP Responses
Smart Sourcing with Scorecards
Quality assurance goes hand in hand with procurement. If you end up installing a defective structure that requires immediate field repair, procurement will likely face questions regarding the quality of other structures and products supplied by that particular vendor. Is it possible they missed critical fabrication issues that contributed to the structure failure, and if so, are other installed assets at risk?
One way to prevent this scenario is to establish a quality program that evaluates fabricators at a minimum on an annual basis. Through this program, you’ll gain data and insights around each fabricator that can fortify your vetting process.
We recommend creating a scorecard to evaluate your potential suppliers and comparing those results against each other as well as the infrastructure industry as a whole. The scorecard should include categories such as housekeeping and safety, fabrication and welding, testing and plant inspection, and any other key metrics that are important to your organization. To truly be effective, the criteria must go deeper than standard ISO documentation audits and instead focus on manufacturing nuances like proper welding procedures, equipment calibrations, and quality inspector training records (just to name a few). Ensuring the party responsible for establishing these criteria has the appropriate expertise in structural design and fabrication is critical to your scoring initiative’s overall success.
A proper scorecard will give you a snapshot of fabricator performance before you even receive and review bids; if you make the scorecard a requirement in your RFP process, you’ll be able to quickly narrow down your search up front. Exo has our own proprietary scorecard that has become the de facto vendor qualification checklist for many of our utility clients.
What to Look for from RFP Responses
During the vetting process, there are several additional areas you’ll want to assess for each contending fabricator. Some of these may be covered in the scorecard, and others should be included in your preliminary discussions with candidates.
Below are a few questions to kick-start your search for the right structural fabricator. Please know that a comprehensive audit will dig much deeper into supplier requirements; contact the Exo team to take advantage of our quality assurance services.
- Did a qualified auditor complete your scorecard?
If completing the scorecard is a requirement for your company, you can eliminate fabricators that don’t comply. Additionally, determine a score range that candidates must reach in order to be considered for your business.
- Have there been any staff changes in the last 12 months?
Company leadership and staffing greatly affects how a fabricator runs its business and the overall quality of its products. If a supplier is in the middle of a significant personnel transition, it may not be the best time to work with them. Be sure to get a clear sense of company culture, direction, and priorities.
- What is the experience level of your engineering staff?
You need to feel confident about the design and construction of your lighting and utility poles, and that starts with the people who engineer and fabricate them. Ask candidates to provide their engineers’ experience so you understand the expertise they can bring to the table for your project.
- What certifications do you and your employees hold?
In addition to experience level, it’s important to ask about any certifications fabricators and their employees hold. At a minimum, all welders should be qualified to AWS D1.1, and all inspectors should be certified by ASNT Level 2. You also want to know if the fabricator itself carries any certifications from organizations such as the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) or the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).
- Can you provide examples of past projects?
It’s important that your fabricator has led projects similar to yours, so you don’t have to spend a lot of time and effort educating the team on basic requirements. You’ll want to see examples of previous work and evaluate the quality before you make a decision. Additionally, be sure to ask about how the candidate handled field issues in the past.
- What is your facility and financial capability for the project?
Does the supplier have the necessary equipment in its facility to manufacture the assets you need? And can it source materials at scale to meet your growing demands? By asking these questions, you’ll have a clear understanding of the candidate’s ability to complete your requests and work with you over the long haul.
- Do you have any customer references we can contact?
Customer references offer firsthand insight about working with the fabricators you’re considering. This is the best way to know what you can truly expect if you were to procure assets from them. If a candidate cannot provide customer references, this may be a red flag in your search.
Partner with Exo for Procurement
At Exo, we believe that ensuring structural integrity starts before your lighting and utility poles are even in the ground. In addition to conducting steel pole inspections, our team also provides quality assurance services and strategic guidance for your procurement processes.