Industry Collaboration

Harry B. “Hal” Walker, PE

Harry B. “Hal” Walker, PE

You’ve heard the phrase “If you ain’t wit us, yore agin’ us!” which probably has its roots in the dialog from numerous old western movies or novels. Or perhaps the following meme has a familiar ring, “I’m an Engineer, to save time let’s just assume that I’m never wrong.“ Although I take it as a means to poke fun at ourselves, have you ever met a fellow engineer who believes in that statement? While I personally have not come across an engineer with such a lofty attitude, I have had stories relayed to me by non-engineers over the years of such individuals.

We engineers can be a proud bunch, especially after all we have endured and accomplished through college, the EIT years, the P.E. exam and throughout our careers. And why shouldn’t we be proud? Engineers have the distinction of being a respected profession. We create things that make people’s lives better. According to the World Economic Forum, the top three most respected professions are Doctors, Lawyers, and Engineers, respectively. But being proud doesn’t mean that we’re better than everybody or we’re the only ones with a solution to an engineering problem, situation, or design, and besides we didn’t exactly get here entirely on our own, we had support from family and friends.

OK, long, what am I trying to stress here. In our industry, we strive to assist our clients in providing pertinent information for them to make appropriate decisions. We also provide design services to complete or expand infrastructure. In my specific engineering discipline, as a consultant engineer working with utility districts, we provide those services for the District’s Board of Directors. However, we’re not their only consultant. The Board also has an attorney, a bookkeeper, a financial consultant, and an operating company at their disposal to rely on. We belong to a network to bring forth a completed product for that client. For instance, the utility district needs a wastewater treatment plant. The Engineer will spearhead the work to have it designed and constructed, but how many others are involved in getting a quality finished product on the ground? All of them, actually.

The design of the facility will be based upon engineering principals, mathematical calculations, and governmental regulations, but we, as engineers, don’t operate the plant. There is a difference between desktop engineering and field operation. Each wastewater plant is different based upon the cultural makeup of the community that sends sewage to the plant. The Plant Operator has the experience of dealing with these differences and the insight to assist during the design phase. Basically, the regulations will provide minimum requirements to design a plant, but the Operator can provide information to tweak it to function better, and besides he’s the one who’s going to be there to run the facility when it’s completed, not us. Also, during the design phase, equipment representatives may have design experience that can solve some of the issues in treatment. Many can offer CAD files to include in the construction drawings.

During construction, it’s almost inevitable that something unforeseen will arise that requires an engineering solution, something one may think only the Engineer can solve. Not true. If the Contractor has been doing this for a while, his field experience may offer up a solution to rectify the problem quickly, and I have found this to be true on many occasions. Legally, it still requires the Engineer’s verification and approval to proceed, but the idea doesn’t always have to come from the Engineer.

The Attorney and the Bookkeeper also have their role to play. The Attorney’s responsibility is to protect the client by ensuring that the legal documents of the construction contract are properly prepared and followed. The Bookkeeper must process all the pay estimates from the Contractor and relies on the Engineer to do our part to process and submit them in a timely manner. No one wants to deal with a disgruntled Contractor who hasn’t been paid!

In the beginning, on our quest to become Engineers, we had help from family and friends. It didn’t end there. In our quest to become experienced Engineers we still have help available. We have established a client network that includes the consultants, product representatives, and contractors, who have become additional support besides family and friends. There is no shame in asking “What do you recommend?” using those ideas and giving them credit for it. The ideas from those outside of our profession, if we’re willing to listen, will provide us with experiences we may not achieve alone. Listening (without an attitude) will also establish stronger bonds and prove to be beneficial on our next project. Again, we want the Client to have a quality product in the end, right? Form that alliance with those in the network. Collaborate with them, because we all benefit from it. Those in the client network want the same thing for our client, and that is something to be proud of!

Harry B. “Hal” Walker, PE

Topics: Commercial , Construction Phase , Structural , Drainage , Municipal , Transportation , Waste Water , General Interest , Residential , Traffic , Utility Districts , Water , Young Engineers Series

Written by Harry B. “Hal” Walker, PE