Engineering and other costs in a project

Hey guys! My name is Raffael and this is my first post here:)

I’ve just stablished a new design studio in Brazil and I’m having some trouble quoting projects for clients. I have worked with packaging but I have no experience in electronics, mechanical or other complex design fields.

Unfortunately, I don’t have an engineering department yet. So, in your opinion, how the costs of engineering relates to a project? Should it be included in the design proposal? How is it possible to calculate all this costs upfront? How do you usually explain those “extra costs” to clients with no experience in the design development process?

Brazilian design is young and I think there’s a bad culture here of ignoring these stages in a proposal or even absorbing the costs later because of poor communication.

Thank you!!!

Unless you have partnered with an engineering firm, it would be entirely out of turn for you to quote engineering costs, or any other costs not provided by your firm.

You certainly can give your clients a heads up that additional work will need to be done to get the product made, but you are not responsible for the actual cost numbers. It is your client’s responsibility to source, hire and get quotes for these other services.

iab is right, unless you have experience project managing engineers to scoping engineering tasks, then I would not recommend writing a proposal… ironically I’ve gotten work coming the other direction where they have already scoped ID but have no capability to do the work… they are usually bummed when it costs more than expected and it eats into their profit margin. Dom’t let that happen to you!

The way I have handled this in the past is there are 4-5 engineering partners I like to work with, from individual contractors to large firms. Usually I put the client in direct contact with them and let them work out an agreement. On the rare occurrence a client wants a single point of contact I’ll ask my preferred partner to write a proposal and I’ll make that a pass through expense to the client plus whatever standard markup I’ve agreed to with them to manage the process and float the funds.

You can only quote for what you exactly know to deliver. It works best to keep communication as clear as possible about the deliverables and work process and cover your risks in your terms & conditions so that you can stick to the agreements during the project. Because the cost ratio for a project comparing design, engineering and manufacturing phases is often more like 1:10:100, design is often seen as a cheap service, so be adamant on establishing good awareness of what your design process will entail.

Wow… That was really enlightening to me! Thank you guys!

Of course it changes case to case but, talking about the workflow… What’s the refinement level of the models and files you guys usually deliver to engineering companies (Just the visuals? The 3D housing? The housing with all parts separated and specified?). Then, to be in control of the original design intent for complex products: what is the “charging regime” practiced in the US and Europe for the designers to attend revision meetings? A monthly fee or a closed pack?

Sorry for the flooding of questions:)

Cheers from Rio de Janeiro!

It is different client to client based on what they need of course. Here is what I like to hand off if we are going all the way through CAD:

  1. STEP file with all parts (usually with their internal mechanisms/components imported if possible from the client with general allowances for materials and construction types, with the emphasis on A side surfaces, not drafted. Ideally there will be several rounds of back and for the with the in house or partner ME’s/EE’s on construction and components)

  2. Design “TechPack” PDF showing orthographic views, detailing CMF, showing any critical movements , lighting or other features

  3. Lighting animation reference file if needed for LEDs and other indicators

  4. Render suite (10-15 high res studio/environmental/in use renders)

  5. Appearance model. I have a few model shops I like to use that can make beautiful appearance models to be used in photography and as a golden sample.

For follow up design revisions throughout the NPD process we tend to bill 1 of 3 ways depending on client preferences:

  1. hourly retainer: Client pays for a bucket of hours in advance that we draw down from for engineering calls, revisions, etc
  2. hourly: Client requests changes, engineering calls, etc and we bill for the hours at the end of each month
  3. day rate: Client asks for a day of time here or there at an agreed upon rate as the program progresses throughout the NPD process (I use this when Asia travel is requested)

I usually ask for the retainer because it helps me by recognizing the revenue early and guaranteeing I have at least some time and a seat at the table, though the hourly engagements tend to add up to more over time when they happen.

If the client has very good internal CAD resources or a very good ME partner, sometimes I’ll recommend we just hand off a 2D tech pack and work with them to work out the kinks in 3D. Then take their 3D back and do all of the nice renders. That has worked well a few times. I modeled it off of how we usually work in the footwear industry. I experimented with it at Sound United, handing off 2D orthographics to the factories and having them do the CAD. It makes for a little more back and forth but I found the processes overall is faster. I recently designed a line of motorcycle helmets with that process. I recommended it because the surfacing and the restrictions are so tight that I just didn’t think my guys would be as efficient and the factory team on the CAD. So we handed off really tight orthographic renderings with a lot of details called out and rough cross sections to communicate intent. The factory built the CAD and sent it over, we redlined that a couple of times to get the subtleties right, and they were off cutting tooling.

btw, I do applaud your desire to serve the client well. Don’t stop, it is a component of a great company, but so is knowing your limitations.

Also, don’t be afraid to get Engineering involved from the beginning; specially if the Engineering will affect the overall product geometry and/or function. There’s also Electrical and Mechanical Engineering which are different disciplines so make sure you engage the correct firm. Ideally the firm can do EE and ME.
If your client is not knowledgeable of the process, make sure you arrange to have a proof of concept prototype early on. You don’t want to be designing something if there are factors not defined or proven. We once worked with an client that brought their own EE/ME contractor to design a GPS product with a specific function. Long story short, months later, the project got cancelled because the EE could not deliver a working prototype.
Do not assume anything. Clearly define what you need from the EE/ME firm and who is doing what and when.

Good luck.

Do you get a prototype made first to physically check everything, or is the cad enough for you to give the go-ahead for production?

Always prototype. :slight_smile:


For a moment I thought you were very very brave to cut steel from a cad markup :joy:

Just founded my own company… My partners and I are trying to predict and formalize the best way to work in a bunch of different scenarios. For complex cases like a gym equipment, for example, we’re thinking about hiring an engineering company as a part-time consultancy in the initial design stages: just a couple hours per month should be enough to put the project in a correct path.

Thank you, guys! Should have come to this forum earlier… Really appreciate your effort writing such rich replies!