1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Possible to start Engineering firm without degree?

  1. Feb 21, 2013 #1
    If I were to engineer specific high-performance product and establish an engineering firm would this be legal in US without a degree for engineering?

    Also any suggestions or side thoughts are welcome.

    Thank you!
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2013
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 21, 2013 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    Some specific functions, such as structural design, require certification by a registered professional engineer. Aside from that, the use of the title "engineer" is not restricted in law, nor does it require a license. Doctors and lawyers are required to have a license to practice their craft, but engineers are not.


    Charles Concordia was one of the most brilliant and respected engineers of the twentieth century. The Concordia Award is one of the IEEE's highest honors. Mr. Concordia never went to traditional college.

    Can it still happen today? Sure. It is not crazy to say that Steve Jobs was a great engineer. The definition of "engineer" has very fuzzy boundaries.

    As a matter of practicality though, you need 100 pounds of brilliance to offset the advantage of 1 pound of academic degree.
  4. Feb 21, 2013 #3
    Just a point, because I disgree pretty strongly with some of what Anorlunda said:

    You are not allowed, by law, to personally offer engineering services and say that you are an engineer if you are not a licensed professional. When offering engineering services, the liability for the project falls on the engineer (hence why becoming a professional is not a walk in the park). You cannot legally absorb that liability if you aren't a licensed professional.

    If you work for a company that is willing to absorb liability, you can do engineering, but you are qualifiying calling yourself an engineer by saying "I'm an engineer at XXXX, we are offering our services". This is typically covered under the Industrial Exemption act, though I'm sure there are some exceptions to this act, as with all things.

    As for design, yea I think you can pretty much say "This dog collar was precision engineered for..." without any legal mis-steps. But I'm not sure about this, I'm sure each state has it's own take on the use of the word. As long as the product doesn't fall under the umbrella of those which must be designed and manufactured by card-carrying engineers, you'd be ok.

    Not for licensed professional engineers it doesn't. There is an entire set of guidelines and laws.

    This is an interesting article on the subject.

    You can design and build whatever you want, it's the sale and/or use of that product in the public domain which is restricted in some cases.

    Depending on the product, you may need certification (i.e. pressure vessels, hydraulics, embedded systems, structures) and will likely require a licensed professional to design or stamp your drawings prior to manufacture (this can be farmed out, of course, but you will have to pay someone to design the thing with your help). Many industries in most states require certification on the products they buy. What do you mean by high-performance? Which industry?
  5. Feb 21, 2013 #4
    An additional note: If you want to call your business "XXXX Engineering, Inc." You must employ a licensed professional engineer (in many or most states) who oversee's the work being done. If this is the route you go, you must check with your state and municipal laws to see what their stance is.
  6. Feb 21, 2013 #5


    Staff: Mentor

    I didn't mean to start a controversy, but here goes.

    I have a MSEE and worked 45 years as a consulting engineer, employed by G.E., ABB, and several small "engineering" firms. I designed and implemented training simulators, real time control software for nuclear power plants, and the industry standard software to analyze power systems, and real time software that controls parts of the USA bulk power grid. Yet, I never got a Professional Engineer's license.

    At the organizations I worked at, only 5% or so of the engineers employed had a P.E. license. What is true is that the organization must have at least one P.E. employed, and certain projects require the P.E. signature. The article cited by Travis King says:

    Engineer title restrictions are most strict in situations where someone is attempting to offer consumers consulting or contract services. They are also strict in situations where engineering is practiced in the public sector.

    That leaves non-public non-consumer fields as mostly non-restricted. Those happen to be the lion's share of commerce needing engineering.

    When Boeing hires 30,000 engineers to work on the design of a new plane, only handful of them are required to have a P.E license. A utility hires a consulting company to design their transmission grid (i.e. a design study.) The consulting company is not signing off on the design (the utility's P.E. does that) nor are they offering any services to the public. In both cases, the actual work is done by an army of unlicensed engineers.

    The original question in this thread was whether there is room for someone without a degree. Clearly yes.

    Perhaps someone else can find the actual number of licensed professional engineers compared to the number of practicing engineers with engineering degrees. My guess is 5%. The NSPE (professional engineers) has 35,000 members while IEEE has 400,000, ASME has 130,000, ...
  7. Feb 21, 2013 #6
    I agree totally with that last post. I just wanted to point out the importance of looking up the legislation in one's state regarding labelling yourself or your company an Engineer (or "engineering"). And to point out that in many industries which involve public safety, there are strict regulations and certification requirements.

    I just thought that this:
    was misleading.
  8. Feb 21, 2013 #7
    Just call yourself a designer and design/create/invent things. Don't design things that require a PE/SE stamp. If you do not know what that entails, contact your local governing body of professional engineers.

    If your business is successful you can employ a licensed PE and then start throwing around the word engineer.

    Additionally, the word engineer is too darn fuzzy because, as a profession, we do not set the bar high, we are not united, and perhaps we are lazy (some people don't even bother with acquiring a degree). Consider doctors, lawyers, or dentists, there is not much grey area with regards to who can offer to practice medicine, law, or dentistry.
  9. Feb 21, 2013 #8
    To echo anorlunda, I think that if you sell to businesses, you are held to a lower liability standard than if you sell to consumers.

    For example, if you sell a fiberglass spoiler to Honda directly, I would think if the spoiler made the car unstable, Honda would be at fault.
    If however, you sold an aftermarket spoiler to Honda owners and it made the car unstable, I would think you would be at fault.
  10. Feb 23, 2013 #9


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Most machine shops and fabrication plants acting as suppliers would not require the services of an engineer or of a professional engineer, since they are manufacturing a product, at most times, when necessary, from specifications of a design already signed off by a professional engineer.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook