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What is an Engineering Firm?

By B. Turner
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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An engineering firm is a business made up of professional engineers and consultants. These firms often specialize in construction, transportation, and environmental services. They offer consulting and technical services to contractors, architects, and municipalities. Some engineers may also specialize in other disciplines, including aerospace, industry, military, and genetics. In general, these specialty engineers work for private companies or government organizations, and not for engineering firms.

Engineering firms are hired by architects, construction companies, and private clients to design or modify buildings, roads, and parcels of land. Civil and environmental engineers may design roads or develop site plans which satisfy the needs of developers while protecting the environment and the public. Mechanical and electrical engineers create technical system designs for residences, commercial buildings, and sometimes entire cities. Structural engineers consider material weights, loads, and external forces to design safe and efficient structures.

An engineering firm may offer services from a variety of engineering disciplines, or may focus on a single one. Larger firms may include civil, mechanical, electrical, and structural engineers who collaborate on single projects for a client. This provides a “one-stop shop” approach that helps to minimize communication errors and is also quiet convenient for the client. Smaller firms often specialize in a specific discipline, such as civil work. In these cases, there is an enormous amount of communication and collaboration required between the various engineering firms on the project.

On the average building project, whether it is a road, school, or shopping center, an owner or developer will approach an architect with list of the projects basic requirements. The architect will create a preliminary design, known as a schematic drawing. Before the details of the drawing can be developed, the architect must consult engineers who specialize in fields that are applicable to the project.

The architect may first approach a civil or environmental engineering firm. Professionals from these firms will perform tests and create geotechnical reports on the existing soil. They will use these tests to create a site plan for the project, which will show sediment and erosion control and changes that must be made to the land so that the new building can be accommodated. A civil engineering firm may also develop road, water, and sewer plans to connect the new building to the surrounding infrastructure.

Next, a structural engineering firm must be consulted. The engineers from this firm will design a complete structural system for the new building. This generally includes metal or wood framing, roof support structures, and underground footers and support. The structural engineer will often collaborate with the civil engineer when it comes to new roads or large grading changes on the site.

Finally, an architect may approach a mechanical or electrical engineering firm. A few companies may perform both of these trades, but often they are performed by separate firms. The mechanical engineers will design heating and cooling systems and will specify appropriate mechanical equipment to be used in the structure. The electrical engineering firm will produce a lighting design, wiring diagrams, and recommendations for connecting the new system to the municipal power supply.

The employees who work for an engineering firm may vary wildly when it comes to educational and professional background. In many Western countries, engineers must obtain graduate level degrees and complete several years of applicable work experience before using the title of Professional Engineer (PE). The PE exam requirements vary from country to country, and even from state to state within the US. As a result, many engineers do not obtain PE certification, and instead rely on training and experience when proving technical and consulting services.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon314144 — On Jan 16, 2013

What college courses should I take to work for a engineering firm?

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