Process Projects: Using an Engineering Firm along with an Architectural Firm

Process projects are often started with an architectural firm, leaving the engineering issues to be addressed later on. This is common practice in commercial projects, but can cause problems when this method is used for process projects. This usually happens when a Director of Facilities, tagged as the project leader, first considers issues like building codes and layout rather than how the manufacturing process will actually work and what it will need. Consulting with an engineering firm first when planning your process project can save you a lot of work by addressing several issues up front that might never be addressed by an architect.

Although as an A/E firm, we find it valuable to have a team of experienced industrial architects working on nearly every project, we think it’s important to have an engineering lead in process projects for a few reasons:
  • Budget: The final project cost may not be fully considered by the architect because they may not understand the implications of the process, its equipment and its installation. Architects design to meet building codes and good design practices, but not take into account the budget and schedule considerations of a manufacturing operation. In fact, you may not know until the design is completed if you’re going to be within budget or not, and after you have already paid for the completed design package.
  • Cost implications: Architects typically design exactly what the client asks for, which isn’t necessarily a good thing for the manufacturing client. This means they may not suggest less expensive design options and or tell the client the cost implications of their requests because of their unfamiliarity with the requirements of the particular manufacturing process. 
  • Understanding the manufacturing space: Architectural firms typically best design spaces they understand such as offices, lobbies, employee areas and often leave the manufacturing space as a large open area that the client will need to figure out how to make his process work in. For example, power, HVAC, chemical storage needs, and environmental concerns which relate to industrial process equipment aren’t addressed up front but play the most significant roles in budgeting, scheduling, and permitting.
  • Experience with process manufacturing: Design firms often work on a range of design projects, such as commercial space, retail space, parking garages, etc., and therefore don't know to take into account certain factors of designing a space around a complex manufacturing process.

You need to match the right resources to the right problem, and while architecture is a vital part of a process manufacturing project, we've had many clients who have found it valuable to consult first with engineers to determine the process needs of the project before bringing in the design firm. Designing a building during or after resolving process issues with an engineering firm can help avoid budget problems and lengthy scheduling issues.