Engaging an engineering consulting firm for the first time can be intimidating. You might have some trepidation about the costs or uncertainty about what services a consultant can provide.
We hope to clarify the various ways engineering consulting can serve your projects and organizations.
How an Engineering Consultant Can Support You
When faced with a new project or a significant expansion, you may be unclear how an engineering consulting firm can help. We’ve found that our clients generally fall into three broad groups.
1. Technical Expertise
The need at hand is a technical one. Perhaps the project introduces new technology that your team isn’t familiar with or a process you’ve never designed before. Therefore, one of the most obvious benefits of working with an engineering consultant is gaining access to their experience, expertise, and specialized skills.
Their experience should allow them to accomplish tasks in less time and with greater depth than it would take to train and ramp up your current team. Ensure that the engineering firm being considered has the expertise you need, preferably with a portfolio of similar projects. As well, ensure that the contract terms are flexible enough to meet your needs and exclude the aspects that your team could handle independently.
You are scaling up your manufacturing process by building your own facility or increasing the throughput of a process. Your internal team knows the process in and out but has never set up a brand-new facility before and needs help understanding the equipment and associated requirements for a much larger scale.
In this case, we recommend engaging an engineering firm with experience in process equipment and utilities. Your internal team can partner with the consulting engineers and learn about the equipment and utility systems. At the same time, the consultant provides guidance on the design options, informs you of potential risks and blind spots, and executes the project in a time-efficient manner.
2. Staffing Augmentation
Another situation we often find our clients in is that they are proficient in the technical aspects of their process, but the amount of work projected exceeds what their team can take on at that moment. In this situation, it is likely more time and cost-effective to partner with an engineering firm to supplement your resources in the short term. Building this partnership will lessen the burden of recruitment and training and allows for your organization to be agile in handling changes in resource requirements.
Discussing the nature of work required with an engineering consultant will help them identify individuals with the right type of skillsets to support your team. It is also recommended that you discuss what level of staff experience (junior, intermediate, or senior engineering) is required to perform the work.
3. Project Management/ Construction Management
The right expertise for a project can sometimes be hard to pinpoint. For complex and multifaceted projects, such as a building expansion or a new process requiring multiple disciplines and trades, it may be more cost and time-efficient to have an engineering firm own the whole project. The management and coordination skill sets required for these types of projects are built through experience. While large projects requiring a manager of this sort can be rare at organizations where these opportunities don’t often arise, engineering firms have individuals who do this repeatedly, year after year.
It can be daunting to hand a large project over, but consulting engineers are experienced and adept at integrating themselves into client teams and systems to deliver projects that meet the requirements of all stakeholders. It’s important to partner with a firm that prioritizes listening to your needs and ensures you are sufficiently involved throughout the project and decision-making processes so that your team feels comfortable and at ease throughout the project.
A new building is being constructed at your site. Your in-house team focuses on the specification and testing of the process equipment familiar to them. An engineering firm can be hired by your team to manage the overall project, from developing a schedule and preparing a capital budget to coordinating with the architect and subcontractors and delivering the building and systems to substantial completion.
What to look for
Regardless of how a consulting engineering firm supports your projects, they will become your partners. As with any partnership, compatibility, shared values, and a mutual understanding is important for ensuring success. We offer a few aspects to be mindful of:
1. Service or Sales-centric?
Is a company trying to understand the scope of your needs, or are they putting your needs in a box so they can sell you their packaged services? Both sales and service are inherent parts of engaging with an external firm. While packaged services may be efficient when their off-the-shelf solutions meet your requirements, for custom projects or long-term resource support, it is recommended to find a partner with a strong culture of service.
2. Culture of Knowledge Sharing
Knowledge sharing should be both internal (between employees of the engineering firm) and external (between the engineering firm and your team). When this culture is present, the full breadth and depth of the engineering firm’s experience is at your disposal, not just the consultants on your project. Industry knowledge should be shared;this is especially true when it comes to information about your systems and their operation.
3. Notice How They Treat Everyone
While most decisions are made at the management level, the people who eventually use the processes and equipment being designed or retrofitted are the operators and maintenance staff. In this sense, they are the actual customers of the engineers and designers. Therefore, make it a point to pay close attention to how a company interacts with every level of your operation.
4. How Are They Viewed by Other People in the Industry?
If possible, talk to people in your industry and get their thoughts on a particular professional services firm of interest to you. Other clients are not your competitors when it comes to selecting a firm. If a firm has built ongoing solid relationships, it shows they have a history of taking responsibility and providing consistent quality and support.