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Re: Offshore Design

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> > I don't necessarily agree with outsourcing work overseas as being
> > unethical.
> > As a design engineer, I'm constantly sending sketches and design
> > drawings by
> > hand or in verbal format to my drafters who go through the detailed
> > coordination and geometry necessary for a functional set of working
> > drawings.
> >
> > Once the drawings are completed, I work through them and check them.  Red
> > markups go back to the drafters for review.  After I while we
> > develop a good
> > working relationship, where I know the drafter's weak spots and
> > he mine.  We
> > feed off each other's strengths until the product is finished.
> >
> > Now whether the job is drawn up in house, by contract,  farmed
> > out down the
> > street or overseas is not as relevant.  At the end of the day, the design
> > engineer has to satisfy him/herself that the work is done well and that he
> > takes responsibility for it.  Public safety is not in question
> > here, because
> > the same registered engineer is taking final responsibility for
> > the design,
> > coordination and inspections for the job.
> >
> > An engineer that finds a way to outsource the expensive part of the job to
> > be more competitive, even if that means outsourcing overseas is good
> > business - and that is very American.

"Very American?"  I agree from a  historical perspective.  It reminds me of when
we sold all that scrap metal to Japan and they returned it to us, free of
charge, at Pearl Habor.  From the recent news, it seems we've come close to
getting a good price on sattelite technology from China and have in turned seen
some "unrelated" vast improvements in their nuclear delivery arsenal.  I'm not
an isolationist by any stretch of the imagination, but I'm also not naive.  I
have travelled overseas to "1st World" (the Old World, Europe) and "3rd World"
countries (we live in the 2nd World, aka "The New World"), and have made a point
to speak with the people at trade missions, US companies stationed there, etc.
The very same countries that seem to want us to shop out our services to them
for cheap are the same one that have incredible barriers to US firms coming in
to do business as well as require substantial bribes to do business.  These
countries are not good trade partners.  I certainly won't give them my business
voluntarily any more than I would buy from a car dealer with a reputation for
dishonest deals.

I also agree with Brian Smith.  We are paid for our services and expertise.  To
turn around and shop the work out to someone without our qualifications not
under our direct control is unethical.  I would rather an engineer doing this to
pocket the money saved than to lower his prices, because that puts pressure on
others in the same field to do the same.  I find the arguement "if you check it,
it's OK" to be weak--there are too many places to make a mistake, to make an
incorrect assumption, to not factor in something that should have been if you
were knowledgable of the local conditions.  I don't worry about the errors I
catch...I worry about the ones that slip by.  I object to US engineers, say, in
Maine sending designs down to the Texas Gulf Coast, relying on the local
contractor or engineer to specify all of the conditions and requirements for the
area.  I certainly object to the same practice coming in from overseas.  It's
inheritly not safe, and it requires extra work by the local engineer to make it
safe.  Since the whole point of the local engineer to shop this out is to save
time (and charge less money), I don't see that local engineer spending the extra
time and money to find those possible needles in the haystack and instead rely
on, "well, nothing bad has happened yet."

This is in no way a slam on "Third World" engineers.  I have been brought into
projects where Japanese or German engineers have made serious mistakes due to
miscommunication, lack of understanding of local construction, fabrication, or
maintenanc practice, or (most commonly) unit error.  Come on--if NASA can't keep
their units straight enough to prevent one of their Mars landers from burning
in, why do you expect commercial firms with their eyes on the "bottom line" to
bat 1.000 on this?  Nor would I expect US engineers who shop out to other
countries get it right--remember the post from the Carribean engineer?  It's not
a question of correct execution of calculations, its a question of selecting and
setting up the calculations correctly to fit local conditions, including
materials, contractors and codes.  *IF* the engineers in question are part of a
shop or section that specializes in that other part of the world, I might buy
off on the quality of work....but outside of some of the major firms like Brown
and Root or Kellogg's or McDermott, you usually don't see that.  We all use the
disclaimer, "our work product is limited to the accuracy and completeness of the
information supplied by our client," so its not the FAULT of these long-distance
subcontractors....but the end result still means errors delivered to the client.

In order to become a PE, we must be supervised by a PE skilled in our area.  In
order to stamp off on a plan or other document, we have to have done the work
ourselves OR directly supervised it.  Yes, you can supervise someone in a remote
location...but I submit it is far less reliable than someone in your office,
ESPECIALLY if it is someone you have never met, reviewed their creditials, or
reviewed their work process.  Through in some language and cultural hurdles, its
even more challenging.  Its up to the PE to "bet their stamp" and make those
decisions.  I fear too many people make that decision too casually....and more
importantly, do not disclose to their clients the fact that part or all of the
"grunt work" was done overseas by individuals not intimately knowledgeable with
the project.  The arguement for hiring a California engineer instead of, say, a
Louisiana engineer is due to their detailed knowledge AND EXPERIENCE with
seismic issues and code requirements.  Even with all the books, I wouldn't feel
comfortable with major (or even some minor) California design projects because
of my lack of experience and could not ethically take the work.  Clearly, others
do not feel so inhibited.

This is not an "isolationist" issue, it's a "public safety vs. dollars" issue.
If a client is unaware of a firm's use of overseas (or even out of state)
resources, it could also be a issue of "truth in advertising/false
representation."  If you're NOT telling your client how you're saving them
money--Why not?  Are you worried about their perception of work done by others
when they perhaps thought they were paying you?

I'm not saying its impossible to use overseas/out of state resources ethically,
just that the most common reasons for doing so (money) directly competes with
the extra effort (time=money) required to provide the same reliability as an "in
house" job, thereby creating a potentially dangerous conflict of priorities.

Bart Kemper, P.E.

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