Consulting Engineering – What Does That Mean?

Thomas C. Yellina, PE

KGEIlogohorizontalOver the past 25 years, I have been asked countless times by family, friends and clients, “What do you do as a consulting engineer?” A consulting engineering by definition is:

“A professional service that provides independent expertise in engineering, science and related areas to governments, industries, developers and construction firms. Engineering consultants work with businesses to help them meet their design and construction needs. Engineering consultants typically work as part of a consulting company after receiving an engineering degree and obtaining several years of experience in the field.”

But, what does this entail day-to-day? For my firm and throughout my career as a professional consulting electrical engineer, the number one goal is to educate our clients. It is my job to inform them about the various options they have in making decisions regarding the building/space that they have hired me to design. At the same time, I recognize that my primary obligation is to protect the life, health, property and welfare of the public.

As consulting engineers, we are driven by the codes set in place by the state in which we are working. These codes define the minimum safety requirements for constructing a building. Among them are fire, mechanical, plumbing and electrical codes.  While the minimum safety requirement is mandated by codes, there may be several options that can fulfill that obligation and align with the unique design needs for their building/space.

It’s important that I present the pros and cons as well as the costs associated with each option available to the client. Equally as important is listening to the client and asking questions so I understand their specific needs, budget concerns, and timing deadlines.  Each decision a client makes comes at a financial cost, and with any construction project the final determination often seems to be money driven. Every client is different; some have large budgets and want the latest and greatest systems, while others have a very fixed budget and want the best system for the least cost. Either way, it’s my job to investigate the details of each client’s vision so they can make educated and informed decisions when choosing a lighting system, power system or low-voltage system that meets energy codes and their expectations.

If I do not pay attention to the specifics of my client’s vision, then I have failed them, and that is unacceptable to me!  Some engineers look at a project as just another job and view their job as just another paycheck.  For me, each project is more than a job or paycheck. It is a piece of me. It reflects my professional design skills as a consulting engineer and my ability to deliver what my client desires.  It is of the utmost importance to me and to my colleagues at Kerr-Greulich that the client is satisfied once the dust has settled and they take possession of the building/space that will serve them for years to come.