F E A T U R E D r. Michael Wrinch, P.Eng, does not underestimate the carnage COVID-19 has wrought on people and businesses around the world. But, like a number of other BC engineers, the president of Burnaby-based Hedgehog Technologies believes the virus “has worked in a way to our advantage because innovation is our thing, and everyone’s now in flexible mode.” Where most clients pre-COVID preferred to avoid risk and stick with what’s most familiar, “they’ve now fully accepted and embraced alternative means, and they’re allowing us to try new things all over the place.” For Hedgehog, a 20-person electrical engineering consulting firm whose work has ranged from determining the root causes of a thrill ride derailment, to helping the Gitga’at Nation install Canada’s first smart remote microgrid, and supplying electrical designs for US military submarines, “trying new things” has included a new approach to completing site inspections. “We can send a client a program we developed,” said Wrinch, “where they can walk around with a tablet and a checklist, take photos and write in the information, press send and it comes to us in a Word document. We can then determine whether that is acceptable, or go back on site and finish the inspection. This allows us to do social distancing more easily, and it’s more efficient.”
Hedgehog also set up a system involving live-feed cameras and iChats for one client in California who originally wanted them to—as they usually would—fly down in-person to commission a project. “With the cameras on, we were right there with them live, walking them through step-by-step how to commission this machine,” said Wrinch, “and it went really well. Normally a client would never accept that kind of remote activity, but they were pretty happy with what unfolded. And other than missing the fuzzy warmness of going to dinner with the client, so were we.” Other Hedgehog clients have been just as accepting of new programs and methods, and Wrinch firmly believes that the new normal under COVID-19 will, in fact, prove to be the permanent new normal—not only for how employees in his firm work in the future and how open his clients are to innovation, but for the profession of engineering as a whole. “We see this as our moment. It’s our opportunity as engineers to change the way work is done and really show our value.” Dr. Timothy White, P.Eng., a partner in Vancouver consulting structural engineering company Bush, Bohlman & Partners LLP, feels much the same. In a very short period of time, the company—which works on institutional builds, like hospitals and schools, as well as commercial and transportation projects, such as car dealerships and airports— has pivoted to embrace both new tools and new work methods.
A Hedgehog engineer performs an amusement ride electrical inspection at the Pacific National Exhibition. P hoto : H edgehog T echnologies .