Seaming: The System Concept
Commercial roofing manufacturers routinely seek out ways to differentiate themselves from the competition, separating themselves with products, services, specifications and warranties. They do not just sell mopping felts, base sheets or sheet membranes in rolls: They sell “complete membrane roofing and insulation systems.”
That has been good for our industry as well as our building-owner customers.
As would seem appropriate with the “system” concept, manufacturers have historically furnished all components that make up the roof covering for which they will be responsible going forward under the terms of the roof-system warranty. Most system providers manufacture the membrane portion of the system, while many of the accessories or peripheral items are “outsourced.” We can all acknowledge that the manufacturer who assumes the system warranty and liability should be allowed discretion as to the quality and specification of all products in the system. We can further acknowledge that the system provider should be paid for these products.
In addition, a number of system providers have their own insulation manufacturing or their own interests in companies that manufacture insulation. Others own plants that manufacture expansion joint covering, roof drains, perimeter systems and so on. Nearly all commercial roofing manufacturers furnish a branded insulation, membrane fastener and plate, or anchor bar for their warranted systems, which are typically provided by a third-party manufacturer. That is, they purchase a fastener, plate and termination or anchor bar from a manufacturer who specializes in that, then place their own label on it and resell it as part of the system.
There is nothing wrong with the roofing system manufacturer maintaining control over what is used in the system. There is nothing wrong with the manufacturer being compensated for system components for which they will carry a downstream responsibility. What is in need of review is the way some of these system components come to market on these systems: specifically fasteners and perhaps some fastening accessories. It’s a question of logistics.
There are a limited number of fastener manufacturers in this country. They all seek to do business with the roofing manufacturer, distributor and contractor. They build their parts to comply with the demands of the various building codes and insurance industry interests. They work hard to package their products together with fastening equipment that saves contractors labor and time on the job site. No problem here.
The problem arises out of availability and cost to deliver the goods.
Most roofing contractors and distributors represent multiple brands of roofing systems. In addition to warranted “system” jobs, they also seek to compete in the second-tier market in which the pricing structure does not allow for “branded” components. So what we have is roofing system manufacturers who have these component parts made with their brand. They put them in stock in their own distribution centers, or cause the component manufacturers to store them. The problem is exacerbated by the wide variety of lengths commonly used in roofing systems, and by fastening equipment and tools that are incompatible from one fastener manufacturer to the next.
The distributor and/or contractor who represents the roofing system manufacturer must stock or store the component parts. And they must stock them for every brand represented along with the competitively priced fasteners sold under the fastener manufacturer’s brand. When it comes to an item as generic as a hex- or pan-head coated screw for installing insulation or membrane, could we not consider a different approach?
Why not get the roofing system manufacturers out of the business of stocking and shipping fasteners? Then roofing distributors and contractors should be able to do a better job of stocking a wider array of fastener sizes. They should be able to select a brand that is approved by a number of roofing system manufacturers and cut the overall cost of logistics, which can include emergency shipments just to have the right name on the side of a box of fasteners the same as is in stock at the local supply house under the “wrong” name.
It would be easy to come up with a scheme whereby roofing systems manufacturers could be compensated for and maintain control of the fasteners used on their warranted systems. They could furnish serialized labels or institute other controls. Physically labeling boxes and multiple layers of distribution do not make a better roofing system. Some would argue that this might further erode differentiation of systems. But haven’t we done this with roofing asphalt forever? And how important is asphalt as part of a built-up roofing system?
For the benefit of the roofing contractor and our ultimate customer, the building owner, let us consider removing some redundant layers and cost from the supply chain.