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Jason Thompson, VP Operations at Sparta Engineering discusses what you need to know before creating an engineering department.

Being an engineer I have always been intrigued with peoples’ perception of engineering and what engineers do.  I have witnessed customers who thought they needed engineering and technical documentation services and that lead to hiring a person they thought would fill the void.  At the start, this person not only solves the immediate problems but opens a window of potential to answer larger challenges. Very quickly that person has a list of things to-do a mile long and their responsibilities range from drafting to technical analysis.  Naturally, more people are hired to help the first and with additional staffing, efficiency begins to slip and the real problems start to surface.

The first-hire may not be a leader of people.  Tasks will begin to overlap and work is duplicated or lost.  Skill-sets are different and the finished items are inconsistent. Weaknesses in the infrastructure also become apparent.  This includes:

  • Software that is inadequate
  • Hardware doesn’t match the software
  • Office space is insufficient
  • Internet is slow, etc.

An honest attempt to add value, turns into a full blown venture with a high level of risk.

Generally, a company that is looking to add engineering services to their list of services has achieved a certain level of success.  Their current system has lead them to a comfortable level of profitability and they are looking for the next level.  Specifically manufacturing, machine shops and fabricators look to engineering as the way to achieve that next level in their business.  Unfortunately the systems that have made them successful to this point, were never designed for engineering work.

Why is it that most of these companies would never think of adding a full time accountant or a lawyer to their business?  They are happy to contract these services and use only as-needed.  It may be that manufacturers, machine shops and fabricators feel they have a better connection with what engineers do.  They may feel that it is an easy addition to what they already to do.

The truth is that engineering can be a very valuable addition to any company if it is handled properly.  Engineering (like any other business) needs structure and a system to operate within.  Students fresh from colleges and universities are not taught engineering methodologies.  Experienced engineers have paradigms and frameworks about how a system should be used, but often these systems lack in the economic metrics to measure profitability.  Structure becomes an afterthought.

If you are thinking about adding a engineering component to your business, you should be able to answer these question prior to hiring:

  1. Do we need a CET, EIT or P.Eng? What are the differences between them? What are the liabilities associated with all three? How will my insurance be affected with each?
  2. How does engineering fit in our corporate structure? Who will manage engineering? What will the responsibilities of engineering be?
  3. Do we have a system for engineers to operate under? Do we have the structure to support engineering?
  4. Do I have a system to measure performance and ultimately profitability of my engineering division?

The reality is that engineering and technical documentation services is a business.  These services have enough layers of complexity that inefficiencies are tough to find. Without efficient and well organized work the product will be incomplete and inconsistent.  In the next series of articles I will try to demystify engineering services and layout the foundation for adding engineering to your business.

At Sparta we are committed to “Designing Solutions” and we supply much more that just engineering. We offer a partnership with existing businesses who are looking to add engineering. We provide a template of how to integrate engineering services into your business and guarantee its success. Our system can be a real solution to higher productivity, greater efficiency, better communication all at a lower cost.