Structural engineer consultants provide clients that typically include commercial companies and government agencies with recommendations and advice on building sound structures or improving the integrity of existing buildings. Typically, structural engineer consultants possess an undergraduate degree in civil engineering or a related topic although some also have completed postgraduate degrees. Many experienced engineers move into consultancy roles in which they are more concerned with theory rather than hands-on engineering work.
When an architect creates a blueprint for a new structure, the construction firm may hire a firm of structural engineer consultants to review the plans and comment on the viability of the project. The consultants may subject construction materials to a series of tests that are designed to see how well the structure will hold up in the long-term when subjected to natural hazards such as hurricanes, acid rain, earthquakes and other uncontrollable events. Aside from testing materials, consultants use mathematical calculations to identify the weakest points in the structure. In many instances, consultants produce reports that detail the kinds of events and calamities that could threaten the structural integrity of the project. On some occasions, an architect may be forced to revise the plans until the project meets the approval of the consultants.
Aside from advising construction firms about the viability of new projects, structural engineer consultants also provide clients with solutions for problems involving existing structures. Bridges, roads and other structures often deteriorate over time due to the high volume of traffic or because of environmental factors such as exposure to salt water or extreme heat. Replacing such structures can be expensive and time consuming. Therefore, municipal governments and private companies often work with consultants to determine whether steps can be taken to keep the existing structure intact. Consultants can provide clients with both short-term solutions that mean keep a building viable for a few years, and long-term solutions that could keep structures in place for decades.
Structural engineer consultants are often at the cutting edge of new technology since these individuals are constantly presented with new kinds of problems involving different structures and building materials. Many firms employ a large number of engineers; each is skilled in a particular area such as civil engineering, nuclear engineering or structural design. Employees of major consulting firms are full-time workers who normally receive a salary while the firm itself receives a fee from each client. Some consultants are self-employed individuals who must negotiate consultancy fees with each client.