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I hope this does not sound like advertising, but I also hope you do not forget the small engineering companies and organisations that have worked with you in the past.

During the lockdown I have been blessed so far. I have been remarkably busy with my part time commitments to the university, and I have had two small consulting activities to fill in the gaps. Incredibly lucky for me.

One of them was quite interesting and is the basis for this blog. A small consulting company contacted me asking for some assistance. Seems one of their clients had a hydraulic problem with the manifolds that distribute water to a cooling tower. The header (a complex piece of fibreglass piping) had broken in a storm, and my contact was asked to provide some support while the replacement was rebuilt.

My contact and I took the opportunity to diagnose the root cause of the maldistribution and working with the client (getting both old and anecdotal data) we developed some scenarios to explain the maldistribution. Simple calculations were performed and refined, and a short list of possible causes was developed and presented to the client. After discussions with the client on our findings, there was enough there to justify going forward with one of our recommendations. While the details are confidential, we developed a quite simple path forward that centred on a simple piping modification. The client was able to restart with the new manifold, and reports are better than favourable (SUCCESS!!!).

In looking back over my consulting career, most of my non-training work has been small studies or niche problems. And many of them have not been local – they have been based on my international network. And outside of being a “gun for hire” for a large project, this tends to be the main purpose of small engineering companies. I am not sure what is in our small corporate DNA that gives us this advantage, but short-term problem identification seems to be a characteristic many small engineering companies share.

Small problem identification does not equate to small problem solution – often a larger company is required to implement a solution (because the solution is often a project). It is a symbiotic relationship where both benefit from the other – much like the oxpecker bird and the zebra have a symbiotic relationship. One could function without the other, but one functions better with the other. And clearly, they do not compete with each other.

The lockdown will cause unprecedented change, including causing the closure of many small companies. Several of these companies are less than ten-person companies with a few core individuals with years of knowledge and experience, and it would be a shame for that knowledge base to be lost prematurely. And like with many ecosystems, the more diverse the ecosystem, the healthier it will be. I am hoping our global engineering ecosystem can survive this lockdown, and recovery.