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According to the informative 2017 HVAC & R Industry Directory, there are no less than 128 listed Contractors serving the South African HVAC & R Industry.

This number includes for (inter alia) Contractors engaged in allied services such as duct cleaning, cooling tower refurbishments, controls, general insulation, insulated panels and sheet metal products.

The same directory lists well over 100 registered mechanical engineering practices, all professing to be consultants serving the HVAC & R Industry (this of course, includes Company Branches and Regional Offices).

In this regard, we can safely assume of course, that there are still a number of un-listed entities carrying out business in the HVAC & R sector.

However, given the listed parties alone, the ratio between Contractors and Consulting Engineers  seems somewhat out of proportion.

Nevertheless, no matter what the actual ratio is, it is still a high proportion, so what can we deduce from this situation.

Well, let’s give it a go. Here are some possible (albeit somewhat “tongue in cheek”) scenarios for consideration:

  • Consulting is extremely lucrative and as a result, everyone aspires to become a Consulting Engineer.
  • A Mechanical Engineering Degree means a guaranteed choice of employment opportunities available from over 100 HVAC & R Consulting Firms.
  • Mechanical Engineers are unable to get meaningful employment in the Public and/or Private sectors and hence the need to establish their own consulting businesses.
  • The layman’s (Clients) ignorance of all things HVAC & R and the surrounding “mystique”, enables anyone to engage as a “Consulting Engineer”, regardless of qualifications and professional status.
  • Having previously experienced poor service, financial loss, legal wrangles, ill-advised projects (or worse), at the hands of devious Contractors, Clients are now demanding the services of a
    reputable professional, opening the way for private enterprise venture.
  • Engineers are opting for consultancy work as opposed to contracting, given the severe challenges facing the HVAC & R contracting sector.

No doubt the readers and Industry role-players can offer a few more reasons as to why the HVAC & R Industry has a Consulting Engineer overload.

Nevertheless, all will agree that the situation is unsustainable. As the local economy weakens and recession bites, the situation will certainly become progressively worse.

Is there a solution? Your guess is as good as mine. All I know is that the Mechanical Consulting Profession is in free fall, with engineering standards and service levels plunging as I write.

I guess our Industry now needs urgent stimulace in the form of more work and above all, better returns. This in time, will hopefully encourage Engineers to return to the Contracting field, where they can apply their considerable skills to improving this already seriously flawed sector.

All in all, there has to be a balance. Too many Chiefs and not enough Indians, is an expression as old as the hills.

No doubt it still rings true and I fear, if not addressed timeously, both Contracting and Consulting service levels will continue to decline to the detriment of both sectors.

My hope is to see Engineering expertise return once again to both the HVAC & R Contracting and Consulting Fields.

From my experience, the contracting firms owned and managed by Qualified Mechanical Engineers and/or who employ Professional Engineers, tend to be the larger, more accomplished companies, although of course, this is not necessarily the case, as proved with the very recent unfortunate Company liquidations experienced in our Industry.

Pat Burke
RPM Consulting Engineers
(a division of the Rpm Group (Pty) Ltd)

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