"The Consultation part of Consulting Engineering"
You don't usually call a plumber to come out to your house to walk around with you looking over your pipes. Either you have a specific job for them in mind, or you don't. Automotive mechanics are similar, except that people have become more accustomed to having a mechanic give a used car a "once over" before buying. Engineering is, or at least should be, a service. Don't think of engineering as a technical answer vending machine. Your engineer should play the role of your technical counselor. If you think you may need an engineer, or just really have no clue, call an engineer and talk it out. Engineers are problem solvers and should enjoy talking through the possibilities entailed in solving your problems.
Sometimes the need for an engineer is cut and dry. The people that have these situations arise are often professionals that work with engineers on a regular basis, such as contractors. More often than not, the path forward isn't easy to see. Perhaps retaining an engineer to visit your site and walk around with you giving your potential issues a "once over" would be of great benefit. Off the cuff the engineer may be able to tell you what isn't worth pursuing, and what is in need of immediate attention. This is often called a feasibility study. Is this crack a sign of imminent danger? Could we install new machinery on this floor slab without repairs or reinforcing? How tough would it be to take out this wall? Getting an engineer involved early on can also help you avoid potential pitfalls down the road.
Having the participation of an engineer early on can help to reduce costly decisions later on in a project or situation. We've found that by involving an engineer earlier on in a project, the labor and material costs later on can be reduced. Sometimes the savings can be substantial.
Say, for instance, that a new machine is installed into a manufacturing facility. A specific crane is sought out and brought in by the installing contractor since there is low ceiling clearance. After installing the machine an engineer is retained to design a fall protection system for maintenance workers. The engineer finds that the roof structure is inadequate to support the fall protection system and designs a steel frame to sit atop new posts that attach to the floor. Had the engineer been consulted at the beginning of the project then drastic project savings could have been achieved. The inadequate roof structure could have been identified beforehand, and that new steel frame could have been designed to be used as the crane for machine installation, the fall protection system for maintenance workers, and as a crane system for future repairs or replacement of the machine.
The consultation part of consulting engineering is often overlooked in modern projects. Too many people think of the state-specific approval seal that an engineer uses when they think of engineering. While that seal does represent the final approval that an engineer places on the solution to a problem, the actual engineering is the path taken to get to that approval. If all your engineer provides is a seal, and doesn't provide any interactive problem-solving with you, then you should shop for another engineer. A good engineer will work with you from beginning to end, and will almost always save you money and time.
Let me know if you have some thoughts, or would like to talk through.