Selecting a process equipment design firm isn’t like shopping for any old thing off the shelves. Your partner needs to be experienced in practical process applications and you have to be able to trust they’ll deliver a job well done for all your technical, financial, and project stakeholders.
Anyone can throw a website up, but how do you sift through the marketing noise to find a process engineering firm you can count on? Here are five strategies to use when vetting firms:
1. Dig Deeper in Case Studies, Testimonials and References
What better place to start than a process engineering firm’s previous clients? Yes, we all know to ask for proof a firm’s work. But how can you get more than a surface-level impression?
First, request a reference list or reach out to others who have used them before and dig deeper than the typical, “Would you use this process equipment design firm again?” Dig deeper into details by asking questions that highlight potential strengths and weaknesses, such as:
- What went right with their project?
- What went wrong? And what did they do to make it right?
- How would you rate the quality and value of the final system?
- Did the system work as planned?
- How did the project manager and craftsmen act during the project?
- What was their greatest area of expertise?
- Why did you hire them?
- What would you do differently?
A quality process engineering firm should be able to provide a strong reference list as well as relevant case study examples. As you go through their case study materials, consider some key internal questions:
- Can you really see yourself in the clients they serve?
- Do their expertise and problem solving translate to the sorts of challenges you experience in your plant environment?
- Can you see a consistent project management approach demonstrated in their work?
- How do they manage project schedules, the job site, safety and all the things that make a job successful?
Diving into past work may require a phone call, not just written materials. Many case studies are little more than a brand name and a logo with a few sentences of marketing fluff. Work with a partner who can genuinely tell you the stories behind how they solve challenges — the kinds of challenges relevant to your operation. Do they have stories of triumph from the trenches and a joy for the job? Those things should come out in the interactions you have with your process engineering partner; a seasoned expert can pull relevant examples and solutions when asked.
2. See the Proof
At EPIC, we’re headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri, the beating heart of the Show-Me State. And like any good Missourians, we believe your partners should be able to show you proof of their work, literally. Job-site photos and videos can prove a process equipment design firm has worked in plant environments similar to your own, give you a sense of finished system quality, and even hint at their safety practices and job approach.
Ask for pictures and videos, and go over any questions or concerns they raise with your potential partners. A good company will be happy to walk you through the key points.
3. Get a Detailed Process Equipment Design Specification
Before you sign on the dotted line, make sure you and your process partners are really on the same page. A detailed specification can help. Good process engineering firms will dig for both the technical and commercial aspects.
A successful process system is not just about inputs, outputs and scale-up. Will the investment provide a profitable return in a reasonable time-frame? Are the proper utilities and support structures in place to accommodate your system? Often these “extras” are not even considered in the initial quoting process, but are just as crucial to process equipment design success as flow rates and output specifications.
For an idea of what should be included in a detailed spec, see this handy Process Project Planner.
4. Bring in Technical and Commercial Stakeholders
Involve both your technical engineering team and your commercial stakeholders to evaluate quotes and capabilities. A successful project for you means pleasing many masters when it comes to finance, production, and engineering. Involving these stakeholders in the vendor selection process is critical for building early buy-in and making sure you are selecting a vendor that can meet everyone’s needs.
Forwarding a presentation is not the recommended method for this. While you may not be successful in getting everyone on-board, asking key stakeholders to at least one phone or in-person meeting is a much better approach. This allows for dynamic interaction where stakeholders can ask questions and dig deeper for clarifying information, allowing them to better gauge true capabilities.
5. Visit the Contenders
Visit your top three contenders, if possible. See their facility. Get to know their leadership and learn how they operate as a company. A company’s values, culture, and internal processes can be just as important as their technical capabilities. In our experience, a clean shop filled with empowered, passionate employees can often provide a much better service experience and better problem solving than a top-down, autocratic outfit.
Learn about turnover, how they handle turnover — if a point person leaves, who steps in? How does each process engineering firm guarantee your job runs smoothly? What kind of in-house expertise do they possess? All of these are crucial things you can learn from real world, in-person visits.
Looking for a Process Engineering Firm?
At EPIC, we bring more than 25 years of experience in process equipment design, automation, and fabrication. . If you’d like expert assistance with process engineering, we’re here to help. Give us a shout at 314-858-5564 or contact us to talk about your project.