Looking at the consulting engineering market right now, I see that there’s two qualities of engineering firms out there at the moment.
Too Cheap Engineering Consultants
There’s the way under-priced engineering consultant working for the big building companies.
They’re sending their technical work overseas and/or getting it done in the equivalent of engineering sweatshops right here in Australia. They’re cutting corners on their designs. They’re missing the mark on quality in exchange for way too cheap prices. They are missing or allowing serious issues to develop unchecked.
Is there a consequence of cost-cutting? We’re yet to see the outcomes of these two recent engineering failures:
But are there more engineering failures on our horizon?
Quality Engineering Consultants are Under-Priced
Then there’s the quality engineering consultants.
They’re doing a great job. They’re doing the hard yards for consumers. They’re really making sure that good designs are going out the door and that engineering is being done properly in a economical way.
The good news is, the quality engineering is being quoted and charged out at unbelievably cheap rates too.
Let me say that again: The really good engineering is unbelievably cheap right now and these guys are doing a really great job for really low engineering fees.
The Winner is the Consumer
It just doesn’t seem right – but in any case the real winner is the consumer and society in general because really good engineering is really cheap.
Those companies that are doing a great job and presenting quality engineering solutions are really easy to find, quite easy to engage and very competitive on price.
Super-Cheap Engineering is a Rip Off
So, when you look at what you get with the really cheap, under-priced engineering companies, you’re really actually getting ripped off in a way.
The companies that are doing work from overseas or sweatshops or are doing mass-market type of jobs for really, really cheap rates are doing so much less work for their money that the consumer is totally getting ripped off.
Cheap Engineers doing Residential Engineering
For example, in the residential structural engineering market, the really cheap guys:
- Aren’t doing quality soil tests.
- Aren’t giving enough consideration to the way a building is built.
- Aren’t visiting sites or getting enough local knowledge for a decent design.
- Aren’t being chosen for their willingness to deliver quality engineering.
- Aren’t supervising and mentoring their engineers and drafters to ensure a supply of quality smarts for the next generation.
Quality Engineering is So Good There is Absolutely No Reason Not to Use It
The stark reality is: the quality and consistency of the engineering coming from the quality companies is such good value right now that there is absolutely no reason not to seek out and use those companies that deliver value engineering.
Now don’t get confused.
There’s even some larger, better known engineering companies that are so over-worked and so far behind their work schedule that they’re letting down clients too. They’re still talking the big game and selling like they need every job but I’m not talking about them today.
The smart, quality engineering companies are right there to be found and there’s just three questions to ask to make sure you’re dealing with one of them.
3 Questions to Ask to find a Quality Engineering Consultant
Question 1: Can I speak to the engineering manager?
The engineering manager in a consulting engineering firm is the person that determines the quality of the work going out the door.
There’s a big difference between the office manager or sales person or company director or scheduler or whatever other positions there are in the company that you can get to speak to easily.
The person in charge of the quality of the actual engineering is the one with the RPEQ registration in Queensland or the experienced NPER registered engineer in other states of Australia.
If you can speak to THAT person, the engineering manager, in person or at the very least on the phone with minimal mucking around, then right there, that’s one fantastic indication that the engineering company that you are dealing with is a quality company.
But you’re going to have to make sure. In the way under-priced, mass-market engineering consultancies you’re going to get the run-around.
- “Oh the engineering manager just stepped out.”
- “I’m so sorry the engineering manager is at an appointment.”
- “The engineering manager is on annual leave today.”
Don’t accept speaking to anyone less than the engineering manager, in a really simple process, or start looking carefully at the company you are dealing with.
And I’m talking about you too – the big mass market building companies pumping out hundreds of houses a year.
There’s really good quality, cheap engineering consultants out there. They’re right out there and it’s just another couple of phone calls for you.
The quality of the cheap and nasty engineering consultants is so poor you are being ripped off if you can’t speak easily to the engineering manager.
Solution: Have the number of the engineering manager for your engineering consultant on speed-dial. They are the one you need to thank when the job goes well or chase up and hound if you job goes too slow.
Question 2: Who will be working on my job?
It’s a simple question. In residential engineering, just ask “Who will be doing the engineering on my job and who will be doing the drafting for my job?”
- “Oh. We haven’t allocated anyone to your job just yet….”
- “The engineer working on your job is away today.”
A quality engineering company sets up a job and allocates staff just about as soon as they know about the job.
A too-cheap engineering consultancy doesn’t know the name of the engineer working on your job because they are the “engineers-with-no-name”. I just made that up. I’m talking about the engineers and drafters working in the back room with hardly any supervision, checking, training or enthusiasm.
Solution: Find out the name, phone number and email address of the engineer working on your job. Keep it handy. You may just need it.
Question 3: Can you do inspections during construction?
A quality engineering company backs up their design work with inspections by a local engineer.
It doesn’t matter so much if your consultancy is out of town – a quality engineering firm already has a relationship with a local engineer that will do your inspections during construction.
If your engineering consultant is local, they should have someone available to do the inspections.
Under-priced structural engineering consultants either don’t offer inspection services or they use an inexperienced inspector.
For example, at Cornell Engineers, our inspections are carried out by 4 year degree qualified structural engineers that have worked for us for at least three months. In the first three months they only carry out inspections with a more experienced structural engineer.
Too-cheap engineers are allowing builders to either sign off on their own work, or they send out inspectors for a drive-by inspection. Either that or the inspectors don’t have any training, don’t know exactly what they are looking for and are so over-worked they don’t have time to find problems let alone solve them on site.
Finally too-cheap inspectors are now trying to inspect frames, footings and major structural elements via Facetime or Skype. You cannot verify the bearing capacity of a footing via video. You cannot confirm that all timber connections and members are correctly sized from a video call.
Quality engineering consultants attend site in person, write up notes and either email them or hand deliver them to the builder. Those notes are available for review by the homeowner and the certifier if required. Quality engineering firms take photos during their inspection and keep these on file in case a dispute arises later on.
I’ve been invited by homeowners to attend inspections by other engineering consultants. I’ve arrived on site early and waited for an inspector only to be told “the inspection has already happened.” Now unless the inspector is extremely tiny that inspection probably didn’t happen but the owner still got charged for it.
Solution: Confirm that your engineering consultant can provide an experienced inspector for inspections during construction. Find out the inspector’s qualifications. Attend during the inspection and DO NOT accept an inspection report from an inspector unless you or your independent adviser can verify that the inspection actually happened by an inspector in person.
Really Good Engineering is Really Cheap
So there you have it.
Really exceptional engineering is really cheap and excellent value. It’s way under-priced for what you get and the quality of the assistance you get.
There’s just three surprisingly simple questions to ask to help you find good quality engineering assistance for your next project. Too-cheap engineering just doesn’t stack up. Can you afford not to engage a quality engineering consultant?