Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Making the most of lunch-n-learns

Whether or not you're a member of AIA, you probably have seen at least one continuing education seminar at your office. It was probably presented by a product representative (rep) from some building material company, and they brought in lunch--pizza, sandwiches, or boxed lunches--and talked about their product while you ate lunch. If the presentation was AIA accredited, then it spoke in more general terms about products and served more to edify you on certain construction techniques or problem solving of construction or detailing issues. Regardless, it was 45 to 60 minutes of your life for lunch, so it begs the question--did you get anything out of the presentation, or were you better off sitting at your desk with a Lean Cuisine you heated up in the microwave?

I urge interns to go to a lot of lunch-n-learn presentations because first and foremost, it's a good way to learn about and become familiar with all the different products out there. You may learn about something you've never heard of or gather ideas for the project you're working on or for a future project. You may gain a contact for future reference, say if you have questions about detailing an EPDM roof or a glass block wall. It's also a good way to learn about what current construction problems are going on. When I started in the profession back in 2000, flooring adhesive manufacturers had just changed their formula from an epoxy-based compound to a water-based compound so that it wouldn't have VOCs and would be more air-friendly and better for the environment. However, these newly-formulated compounds required that the concrete slab onto which they were applied have a much lower amount of water in them, so low that it was nearly impossible to attain. In the first half of this decade, our field saw a lot of sheet vinyl bubbling and peeling off because the adhesive would become goo again and wouldn't stick down. Hence, many of the presentations I saw in lunch-n-learns between 2001 and 2005 had to do with mitigating water in concrete slabs and getting flooring to stick on those slabs. I got information on this situation from concrete sealer product reps, concrete admixture product reps, sheet vinyl flooring reps, reps for products that were sheet vinyl alternatives, etc.

As you watch and listen to the presentations, see if there's any way it applies to your present project. Compare the examples you see and hear about to things you've drawn, done, seen, heard about, etc. You may think of questions to ask as you do this comparison--please ask! By and large, the reps I've seen want questions from the audience because they need to know what you want to know, what you need, what are your concerns. They can take that info back to their headquarters as say, "hey, architects are all wanting x, y, and z...." I've personally seen this happen--in the past eight months, I've told two surgical equipment reps that we really need Revit families of their equipment so that we can show them in our drawings and models, and lo and behold, there are now Revit families for these vendors on their site.

Other good questions to ask:
  • What is the installed per-square-foot cost of your product/system? How does it compare to typical/traditional methods? (If they don't know this, I get suspicious. It's an honest and very common question.)
  • Do you have CAD details/Revit families/ArchiCAD blocks of your equipment/details on your website or on a CD-ROM?
  • What are some common mistakes you see in the installation of your product in the field?
  • Are you available to help with specs or review drawing details?
  • What is the lead time on your product? (That is, how long does it take for your product to get to the job site from the time it's ordered?)
  • How can we get samples of your products, if we need them?
  • Do installers have to be trained or certified in some way to install your product?
One caveat: I get a little nervous when I see product reps talk about building codes to some degree and accessibility codes to a greater degree. I've had toilet accessory vendor reps give my colleagues and me flat-out wrong advice on ADA compliance, and that kind of irresponsibility in exchange for a sandwich and a brownie makes me profanity-slinging, Jerry-Springer-chair-throwing angry. Take these presentations with a grain of salt (and possibly a margarita as well).

1 comment:

  1. AMEN! I present about two dozen of these a year. It is so difficult to get the attendees to participate I have taken to offering baseball tickets (Giants) for the most active attendee w questions/challenges/comments/etc. Sorry about the misinformation some reps give.
    tony d.