A passport to international engineering

Some engineering firms are moving beyond North America, and expanding their engineering offerings to other countries.

01/19/2011


Have you recently completed a foreign project? Send me a note at arozgus(at)cfemedia.com.


Engineering firms are constantly looking for ways to expand. You want to add new clients, expand your offerings, and—in short—make more money. Though American market indicators showed a slight uptick in commercial construction at the end of 2010, not many new commercial buildings are being built in the United States. Engineers are finding more work in commissioning and renovating existing buildings in North America to ensure their firm’s success.

 

Some firms are moving beyond North America, and expanding their engineering offerings to other countries. Based on conversations with members of the Consulting-Specifying Engineer editorial advisory board, here are a few tips for international success:

 

* Parlay your experience in military and government facilities to other countries. The United States continues to build and update its government buildings in other countries, so bid on these jobs.

 

* Partner with an engineering or design firm in another country. Take Environmental Systems Design, for example. The Chicago-based firm (and a member of the Consulting-Specifying Engineer editorial advisory board) recently expanded its presence in the Middle East by forming an alliance with a local architecture/engineering design firm.

 

* Work with standards committees and organizations/associations with international reach. Large groups like ASHRAE, Greenbuild, Air Movement and Control Assn. International, and others will introduce you to international partners, and highlight the commercial construction happening in other countries.

 

* Follow the heavy machinery. Heavy equipment makers, like Caterpillar, may be a strong indicator as to where building and construction are growing. Through much of 2010, Caterpillar indicated that sales in China were on an upward swing. The need for engineers will follow this trend, as China is undergoing a building boom, especially as it works to keep up with its older population.

 

Once you’ve thought through your firm’s international expansion, you’ll need to know what areas to focus on. Here are a few ideas:

 

* Target specific countries that allow expansion. Some countries are more open to American firms setting up shop. Also, some countries are more open to American ideas; we need to respect others’ cultures.

 

* Ensure your firm can meet the local codes, and that you can work with the local authority having jurisdiction and a local engineering firm. Oftentimes, your firm will be brought in to design the job and you’ll eventually transition the building to a local engineering firm. The RJA Group, highlighted in a January 2010 article about fire and life safety in the Middle East, emphasizes that engineers working in a different country must learn the intricacies of their building and of the local code.

 

* Know your competition. The United Kingdom and Germany have some incredibly good engineering firms; know who you’re bidding against.

 

* Focus your work on the needs of other countries. For example, energy has been relatively cheap in other countries, so energy management in buildings hasn’t been much of a driver. It is now. According to a report released by Johnson Controls Inc. in June 2010, energy management is considered important throughout the world, particularly in India and China.

 

* Engineer the right types of buildings, based on the demographics of the location. For example, many developed countries’ populations are aging, so engineers should focus on healthcare and elder living facilities. According to the Population Reference Bureau, countries like China and India are at the top of the population heap, with the United States third behind them. In the Middle East, on the other hand, more schools are needed, as their young population is growing.

 

So dust off your passport, and prepare to travel.



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