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Endorsement of a product used in an engineered system

Endorsement of a product used in an engineered system

Endorsement of a product used in an engineered system

I have been approached by an individual that has designed a product for use in a plumbing system. He has asked for my professional opinion about its suitability for use and I genuinely feel that with one or two simple modifications it would work just fine. He is now seeking to bring the product to market and wishes to have a letter from me attesting to its suitability for use. This will, presumably, reassure any inspectors or plan reviewers who will have never seen this product before and prevent rejection of submittals. Other than my suggestion to make one or two small changes to the product I did not have any input on its manufacture. It is a product that can be used in virtually any building construction project, in any city, and any state. I'm only licensed in three states. The questions are:
1) is there a problem with my providing a letter that will be posted on the supplier's website, endorsing the product and attesting to its suitability for use? What is the appropriate fee for this, knowing that the product will likely sell very well and are likely to be in front of plan checkers and permitting personnel all over the country?
2) The product designer is intending to include a letter I would write with the product when is sold and shipped, and may go anywhere in the US, including states that I am not licensed in. I'm not sure about this.. is it acceptable?
3) assuming that it is an acceptable practice to endorse a manufactured product at all, how do I structure my fees?
a)the product can be made in various sizes but will essentially be the same. I don't feel that I can reasonably charge my fee for the first size multiplied by the 5 different sizes available. And what about the ones sold in each state? Do I charge another fee for every state?

This is a bit of a new facet for me. I've been in business for twenty years and have signed and sealed drawings for (mechanical) construction plans that whole time. This is different in that I would be endorsing a product's suitability for use,is new on the market, and will be sold all over the country. In the back of my head I'm thinking that the state board of engineers (California, Nevada, Oregon) will not like the idea of my using my stamp to endorse anything, citing a concern for the 'deflation' or 'devaluation' of the meaning of an engineer's seal or some similar sentiment.

Sorry so wordy, anyone have some guidance/thoughts here?

RE: Endorsement of a product used in an engineered system

This has NOPE written all over it.

Any letter from you officially declaring suitability of purpose puts you in the crosshairs of the plaintiff's lawyer team when they start seeking damages. One worst-case scenario: the guy farms out manufacture of the product to a foreign sweatshop that produces junk of shoddy quality to try to get his market-entry costs down in order to compete. Would you still agree to the product's suitability of purpose then?

Blue Technik LLC
Virtuoso Robotics Engineering

RE: Endorsement of a product used in an engineered system

I wouldn't feel comfortable endorsing anything based solely on performing a design review. I would need to be involved in the design and have actually used it or seen it used extensively and evaluated its reliability over expected service life. This is aside from the whole PE liability thing which I can't speak to.

RE: Endorsement of a product used in an engineered system

What about writing a "white paper"?

RE: Endorsement of a product used in an engineered system

There are way too many red flags for me with endorsing anything I have not personally designed, not that I would ever endorse anything anyway due to the implied liability.

Mike McCann, PE, SE (WA)

RE: Endorsement of a product used in an engineered system

If the product requires an approval from UL, or CSA, or whoever administers the pressure vessel code, the manufacturer should get that approval. IF the product is required to conform to a standard, the manufacturer should go through whatever is needed in order to get a declaration of conformity, or be authorized to apply compliance markings, or whatever other such documentation applies. It is then up to that manufacturer to do whatever is needed in terms of quality control, sample testing, etc in order to maintain the ongoing compliance that they declare, and to supply whatever compliance documentation that the standards require them to supply.

If you offer your engineering services to assist them in getting those approvals, and perhaps preparing the documentation that THEY will in turn be responsible to issue as needed, that's a very different situation.

RE: Endorsement of a product used in an engineered system

Not my field, but I agree that such an endorsement is foolhardy and possibly dangerous to you and your reputation. The issue of licensure is really secondary compared to the fact that you cannot endorse (stamp) such a design unless it was done by you or done under your direct supervision, so you'd violate your licensing requirements as well as any other jurisdictions' PE requirements, regardless.

TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
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RE: Endorsement of a product used in an engineered system

Wow, such great feedback so quickly. I appreciate everyone's 2 cents. The intention is mostly to preempt any plan check comments by someone in permitting that has never seen this product before. The theory is that having a PE specify its use or approve its use in lieu of 'typical' product would prevent delays to approve plans. It sounds as though Brian Peterson has nailed it with his comment:

"If you offer your engineering services to assist them in getting those approvals, and perhaps preparing the documentation that THEY will in turn be responsible to issue as needed, that's a very different situation."

Brian, if you are reading this I'm curious to hear you complete that thought. Certainly I would not sign manufacturing drawings as I have had zero oversight or input into the product's manufacture. And I agree that certification to industry standard (ASTM, AASHTO, etc) , again per Brian, is the way to go.

I suppose the spin on this little gem is the notion of having some kind of form letter attached with submittals, or in the box with the part when sold(as the inventor had initially suggested [not crazy about that idea]). The volume and potential chargeable fees were, at the outset, tempting. But now.. not so much. I'm curious if anyone has seen or heard mention of product endorsement by PEs either in the NCEES or State Board (of any state) literature. I personally have not seen any mention of it.
Thanks all for your contributions! cheers!

RE: Endorsement of a product used in an engineered system

If you are testifying to its suitability even in a letter as opposed to a stamp, ostensibly in your role as an engineer, then you are opening yourself to liability at a later date.

If/when they get sued the other lawyers will subpeona all sorts of documentation and your name will be on it as an engineer.

Engineering should not be a volume business if you're taking it seriously.

RE: Endorsement of a product used in an engineered system

If your letter is supposed to convince people that it's suitable, then those people are depending on your judgement as an engineer. As such, you should hold yourself to whatever standard you think would be appropriate to actually do that. You are basically writing a code equivalency letter, but one that's written to cover every use of the product. Would you be comfortable blindly approving this product for use without significant caveats or even a cursory review of the installation? Are you living up to the duty of care you'd normally hold yourself up to? Are you in control of the installations in such a way that you can actually make a valid judgement? It doesn't sound like it.

RE: Endorsement of a product used in an engineered system

Since this is something (but the rest of us don't know what it is) for a "plumbing system" and I'm not a plumbing engineer (!) I can't help with what standards apply; I also don't know in what jurisdiction you operate.

But in MY area (Ontario, Canada), the first place that a manufacturer should call, is CSA (Canadian Standards Association) if they want to build things that are for general sale to the public. Find out what standards apply, get those standards, and find out what's needed in order to conform to the relevant standards.

Depending on what the component is, samples may have to be submitted for testing, either by CSA themselves or some other testing or certification agency. (It will cost something ...)

But the outcome that you are looking for, in that case, is that the manufacturer will be legally permitted to apply a CSA marking to the product, and the standard may define what documentation the manufacturer has to make available so that end users can properly apply and use the product.

Then engineers like me, will hopefully research the product, see that it conforms to standards that apply, read the documentation showing how to use it, and specify and buy it.

Guiding a company through the process of getting their product certified for compliance with relevant standards, is a valid engineering exercise. And this way you don't take ongoing responsibility for the manufacturer's quality control, etc. That's THEIR responsibility.

RE: Endorsement of a product used in an engineered system

Does the inventor that approached you understand what his request implies for you or does he think you can endorse his product like infomercial products get endorsements from customers? I have some friends in patent law and some of their stories make me think that you shouldn't do exactly what he's asking but the suggestions of you being a consultant/liason for gaining certifications is a viable way to help along the product (if you believe it has some merit) and hopefully get a nice check(!). I hope you find your path without too much aggrevation.

RE: Endorsement of a product used in an engineered system

Disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer and this doesn't constitute legal advice, but it would be something to check with a proper legal counsel.

If any licensed Engineer was going to do this I think the following would be appropriate:

  1. The Engineer would be paid an agreed to royalty on every single piece sold as each one represents additional liability.
  2. The product would have to be put through a full battery of certification tests as relates to the service conditions. If no codes, or standards currently exist, it should go through sufficient testing as the Engineer writing the letter feels is necessary to be considered safe and operable.
  3. The product would be required to have a Quality Assurance process such that at each step of manufacture, the vendors providing their materials/service certify that it meets the specifications originally described to the Engineer writing the letter, and each batch would require a final certification process, reviewing the submitted certifications, to become certified themselves. This makes each batch more work for the certifying Engineer, another reason for the royalty on each.
  4. The manufacturer would limit the Engineer's liability on each part to the amount of the royalty paid through a contractual obligation, since proper testing and compliance has been done and the issues arising are through QA, installation, and operating conditions only.
Of course, I would consult with a lawyer to make sure all of these commitments hold up to totally indemnify myself (or indemnify as much as possible) if this was me. All this being said, it would likely be more beneficial, and less costly in the long run for this particular company to hire an Engineer for all that to happen.

Again, I'm not a lawyer, I'm just interested in hearing others opinions on this.

RE: Endorsement of a product used in an engineered system

Sounds like a smart individual. Asks for a quote on an impossible to accept liability, engineer looks over the product in detail and decides he/she can't provide what is being requested, but feels guilty for stringing them along so gives some free tips for improving the design.

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