April 14, 2011
Recently, a few disgruntled engineers tried to convince me that the end is near. No, they’re not looking at the Mayan calendar. They’re looking at how their jobs are changing, and how the industry may be pushing them out of a job.
A couple of weeks ago, an electrical engineer having a really bad day confided in me that he was worried about his job—and the industry as a whole—changing. He feared that his job would soon become obsolete because suppliers would offer ready-made solutions that required little or no understanding of engineering principles. He believed that suppliers had already started this process, and it was just a matter of years before he wasn’t needed.
Here’s another example: A different engineer voiced his concern about lighting fixture manufacturers who aren’t accustomed to working with end users over the life of an LED fixture. In the case of LEDs, the fixture manufacturer is often the first point of contact with the end user or building owner. In other cases, it’s the electrical contractor. They don’t always continue that relationship though. He said that clients ask specifying engineers to replace lights with LED fixtures, which can be expensive to the client both short- and long-term.
So where does that leave engineers? The sky is not falling. Quite the contrary, actually. It leaves engineers in a sweet spot, allowing them to have a long-term relationship with the manufacturer, building owner, and client. The manufacturer may do a perfect job selling an off-the-shelf product, offering even more tools and options for the engineer to do a better job (case-in-point: BIM). And the building owner may be comfortable with selecting and maintaining a system, but it’s almost always the engineer who is called in to make it better.
Consulting engineers have the unique training and knowledge, thorough understanding of the codes, and ability to see the whole picture. We should be going to our clients—past and present—and ensuring their buildings are at the cutting edge of technology based on our strong relationships with manufacturers. Energy reduction is a buzzword these days, and building owners often are willing to spend a buck to save two. Just look at the advertisers in this publication; these companies are at the forefront of top-notch products.
My conversation with the concerned engineer ended on a positive note. I reminded him that commissioning systems and buildings would always be required. We chatted about the fact that one product might be easily selected and installed by an owner, but an entire system really needed an engineer’s touch.
So the end really isn’t near, and the sky isn’t falling. From where I’m sitting, this is just the beginning.
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