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U.S. engineering firms channel startup mentality to spark innovation

Here’s a recap of the noteworthy innovations reported by engineering and E/A firms as part of BD+C's Giants 300 survey process.

October 14, 2017 |
A personal environmental control platform

Engineers with Glumac look to bring an increased level of comfortable to office workers, with the development of G Cloud. This personal environmental control platform incorporates radiant cooling, acoustics absorption, direct/indirect lighting, and a white noise system—all fixed above a single workstation. Courtesy Glumac

The nation’s largest ENGINEERING and engineering/architecture (E/A) firms have kept busy during the past 12 months. Demand for engineering services continues to remain strong, and the lion’s share of firms surveyed for the Giants 300 report saw revenue grow in 2016.

For the high-growth firms (10% or higher YOY revenue gains), success centered on innovation and going beyond business as usual to create growth paths. Here’s a recap of the noteworthy innovations reported by engineering and E/A firms as part of the Giants survey process:


Tool and product development

Affiliated Engineers is working on a customized tool development environment that will allow its engineers to build data-driven, computational, and design analysis, reporting, and visualization tools for projects and clients.

AKF Group is working with a confidential tech firm to develop real-world applications for Internet of Things and smart-building technologies. Applications include the integration of systems controls to increase network availability and productivity in buildings.

Arup created an app, called FootFall, that allows users to measure vibrations in their surrounding environment using their smartphone. The app uses the phone’s built-in sensors to quantify vibrations in floors, stairs, bridges, and machines.

The engineering giant also expanded its WeatherShift Weather File Module ( to cover 255 cities worldwide, up from the initial 50 cities. The tool provides projected future weather data for these locations.   

Glumac’s new personal environmental control platform, G Cloud, incorporates an array of mechanical and electrical systems fixed above a single workstation: radiant cooling panel, acoustics absorption, direct/indirect lighting system with circadian controls, and a white noise system.

Using the G Cloud smartphone app, occupants can adjust temperature, air flow, and lighting levels to their personal preferences. Once those preferences are loaded, the systems automatically adjust wherever the occupant sits down. When the person leaves, G Cloud reverts to minimum levels, helping to reduce energy consumption.

A year after launching its innovation accelerator, TTWiiN, Thornton Tomasetti is set to commercialize its first wave of product developments. The engineering firm partnered with Atlanta-based tech advisor The Combine to turn five products—three software tools and two hardware devices—into five standalone companies. The products are:

  • Hummingbird Kinetics—a compact, easily tunable mass damper for tall buildings.
  • Konstru—a commercial-ready version of the firm’s in-house TTX interoperability and collaboration platform.
  • PZFlex—finite-element analysis software for the design and development of piezoelectric and ultrasonic devices.
  • Pumpkin Mounts—shock and vibration isolation mounts for the defense, industrial, and transportation sectors.
  • VistaMat—a suite of material failure modeling software for industrial applications.

Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates developed a tablet-based data collection tool for field inspections, with capability of saving photos, notes, and GPS coordinates using cloud-based storage.



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Client service initiatives

Apogee Consulting Group formulated firmwide interview and presentation standards, which have led to growth in the number of project interviews and awards (the firm saw revenue grow 18% in 2016).

To kickstart each project, dbHMS uses early-phase modeling to work with architects, owners, and developers to identify opportunities within their traditional planning and funding processes. Since 2002, the firm has obtained $5 million in grant or incentive funding for clients to make energy performance a reality, even when funding is constrained or nonexistent.

The addition of a dedicated studio for commissioning services keeps dbHMS’s engineers engaged with clients for months and years past the initial project completion.

GHT Limited is investing resources to increase face-to-face interactions with clients.

Magnusson Klemencic Associates offers a presentation workshop to all staff members. Workshop feedback is peer-to-peer in order to provide a safe, open environment.

MKA has fully integrated its BIM experts into project design teams, resulting in the development of technical and professional skills alongside engineers. Enhanced training, including frequent site visits and technical classes, is providing a deeper understanding for the advancement of 3D models with increased independence.

P2S implemented customer relationship management software to streamline the client and project management process. The firm also introduced a client satisfaction and feedback program to improve client service.

SSOE Group brought a portion of its laser scanning services in-house with the acquisition of a hand-held, short-range 3D laser scanner. The move has paid off with reduced costs, increased adoption of the technology, and added value for clients.


More INNOVATIONS and inventiveness

KCL Engineering designed a first-of-its-kind color-changing LED lighting system for the new Monster roller coaster at Adventureland, in Altoona, Iowa. The system incorporates ground-mounted and track-mounted LEDs with sophisticated programming capabilities. The breakthrough solution has led to industry partnerships and additional work for KCL.

In an effort to stand out in the marketplace, Martin/Martin’s marketing campaigns incorporate light-hearted, entertaining videos that showcase the company’s engineers and services. All videos are produced in house to keep the costs down. (Our favorite: a parody of “Ghostbusters” called “Building Envelope Investigators,” )

M/E Engineering has doubled down on the use of computational fluid dynamic modeling for fire/smoke control, laboratory safety, wind wake analysis, cleanroom design, and tight temperature/humid spaces. The result: improved system performance with a lower construction cost and operating cost.

Wick Fisher White hired an in-house graphic designer to help streamline brand standards and upgrade proposal submissions. As a result, the firm’s RFP win/lose ratio has improved. Other initiatives: using social media and video to grow online presence and improve SEO rankings, and marketing in-house experts as industry thought leaders.



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