When someone mentions affordable engineering services, I'm
reminded of the adage, "You get what you pay for".
The nature of capitalism leads some engineering and surveying
firms to try capturing projects and market share by reducing
the price of their services. Of course, they cannot stay in
business if they don't also reduce the cost of performing
these services by the same amount. Companies must make a profit
to survive. This unfortunate nature of capitalism means that
the cost/quality relationship of engineering services is going
to spiral downward to the least common denominator.
good example is the automobile industry. Most buyers don't
seem to care that they can practically push a finger through
the body skin of new cars or that automobiles aren't expected
to last 10 years. As long as the new models are affordable,
fashionable, and have cup holders, Americans will buy them.
scares me is the thought of consumers zeroing in on engineering.
Clients of engineering services, who are also victims of consumerism,
demand the right to buy these critical services at affordable
prices while assuming that the law of caveat emptor has
been repealed. And itís the consulting engineer who is taking
it on the chin, working extra hard to avoid embarrassing and
costly errors and omissions, but getting lower and lower fees.
This leads to a situation where some clients buy engineering
services without regard to quality simply because they are
conditioned to expect everything to be right. After all, many
don't know what goes into engineering design. To them, engineering
is just another line item in the project budget like sheetrock
to a home builder. And like home builders they will look for
inexpensive engineering services. Sooner or later, something
going to give. Engineering firms cannot be profitable churning
out cheap work. Errors and omissions will inevitably become
you ever see construction project managers running around
job sites boasting about the high quality of the engineering,
design? Not lately. Theyíre too busy inside the field office
either checking the integrity of the design or seat-of-the-pants
designing whatever was omitted from the plans. Poor quality
is driving out good because thatís what the market wants to
small manufactured products are defective, you can return
them for a refund. Try that with a set of cheap construction
plans. When the storm sewer is built on the wrong side of
the property line, itís too late. Unfortunately, engineers
canít simply replace the plans with a new set. They first
have to undo the costly error. Then both the client and the
engineer get burned.
consulting engineers do something about it, the problem will
get worse before it gets better. We shouldnít forget that
capitalism is democracy in action. Engineers cast a vote every
time they lower their fees. That vote tells clients that if
they are willing to make a $50,000 purchase indiscriminately
and based on price alone, the engineer will be willing to
deliver a design of substandard quality in order to complete
the deal. Even if it takes both of them right down the drain.
Once the downward spiral starts, engineers havenít much choice.
They either meet market demands or perish.
this point, itís engineers who hold the cards. Thereís no
such thing as affordable engineering services.
T.G. Stringer, P.E.