Pretty much every engineer will have to seek outside help from a consultant at one point in their career. There are a variety of fantastic service providers out there. But the question always comes out, how to pick someone that is reputable, reliable and affordable? Word of mouth and recommendations tend to be a reliable way to choose the correct vendor. But suppose the help you need is a niche problem or something you have never encountered before - can be quite stressful as you feel as though you are taking a gamble.
I was out this morning early walking my dogs on the trails near my home. Two ladies were jogging by and I overheard the conversation.
"My presentation went over very well. I am really glad I put the time into preparing.... I was able to score four consulting projects out of the deal. I'm not exactly sure who will do them, but that isn't my problem."Sound familiar? Happens all the time. You often hear the old IBM approach the "Blue is there for you". Implying that due to shear size, they are able to address your needs. But suppose you are new the problem and need that extra bit of attention to help you understand the results of the service provided. The more important question, I feel, is does the vendor have the bandwidth, do they have the expertise, but most importantly - "can they explain to me the solution to the problem in a way that I understand?"
Not completely a shameless plug here, just highlighting what I have found to be valuable to our customers. In the world of CFD, you tend to have two extremes when looking at services. You have those that rely heavily on high end, very complicated problems (requiring a complicated software solution) and those that tend to be focused on design (MCAD VAR) but dabble a bit in engineering services. So perhaps your problem is so complicated that you need a specialist with an extremely complex solution or your problems are super simple that a CAD guy can help. I am sure there are problems out there that fit these categories.
However, I have found that majority of problems out there fall into the middle of the two extremes. Often, the problems require a decent understanding of the physics, but are heavily weighted on the impact of the design. In other words, many of the engineers that I speak to need someone that truly understands fluid flow and heat transfer, but also is savvy enough to know from a design perspective, what design changes to make and why.
Regardless of where your problems fall, make sure that you dig in and trust your gut feel. When talking to a services provider, do you get a good feeling from this guy? Can he provide references for similar problems? Does he speak "my language" or just using fancy terms to impress? Remember, it's your companies money and your reputation at stake.