A weird situation took place last week at work. A person (let’s call him “agent”) that seems the owner and only employee of an engineering company contacted the company I work for to describe us an opportunity to cooperate in the development of a new machinery for a final industry client (shipping company) for which he was not allowed to reveal his name at this stage at least. We signed a two-way NDA with agent (agent asked that), and after that he sent us some calculations in a power point presentation.
This was the first red flag as there was nothing proprietary that was requiring an actual NDA (calculations were generated using a freeware software and the design points selected do not imply any industrial know-how). An engineer (colleague) responsible in the calculations and more experienced than me in the subject matter prepared and corrected his calculations (and design points!) based on our company’s experience and real situations that we would manufacture the machinery. The agent became mad and stated that we should stick into his calculations and that we made wrong in the calculations. After long discussions he agreed that our calculations are based on the real and in practice scenarios that we would encounter, but even in that case he still persisted that we did wrong in the calculations. I eventually understood that he had been using an older version of the software and that new version has some important updates that are immediately related to the design of that specific machinery. The agent finally acknowledged that and “allowed us” to use the latest version, as if we do not know ours job!
All of this week, the agent was acting as if we were students in an undergraduate or postgraduate course, and not real professionals that we take pride in our work (the company I work designs similar systems for over 20 years)!
After those issues were settled I asked the agent to discuss with the final client a series of issues/questions (related to the industry: shipping industry), that resolving them would help us to reach the final machinery configuration and cost of the machinery.
The first issue was that the machinery design was asking too much flow of cooling water flow and energy. First he was open to discuss that issue with the final client and then he said that the client had in the past accepted those data! The energy asked for was enormous for the client to accept based on our experience in marine projects (in the shipping industry), so we know those data were never presented to the client.
The second issue is that the agent denied to discuss with the client an alternative (contingency) option (to use the cheaper and more in abundance seawater flow - as cooling water flow - as most people would do) and he stated that we should to stick to his design.
The third issue is that he was totally reluctant to ask the client for the classification society the ship belongs to. This has major impact on the design standards that need to be followed, the product certifications and so on the cost.
Not for the agent to be able to discuss and those issues with the client was a major red flag for me that this was not a real project. Probably, the agent did not want to fake any complicated terminology as answers to my questions and decided to simply deny answering my questions. Most probably, we wanted to just use the pricing of such an equipment and the related design for his own research or for any other purpose.
Agent’s profile in LinkedIn seems to reveal a person with more of an academia profile than a person with strong ties with the industry (and definitely not the shipping industry). Finally I responded to the client if those issues/questions are not answered, we plan to halt all related work. Agent responded that he will not cooperate with us any more. We wished him good luck.
In conclusion, I spent more than a week going back and forth with him for nothing. The question is whether there are any specific (non-technical) and clever questions that can be asked from the real beginning that would easily reveal if a project is real one, whether the final client is a real one, and whether they are trying to use our company just to get the pricing information for any other reason other than actually purchasing an equipment. Although as a company we try to help other companies in their first steps with some degree of engineering (for free!), we demand some honesty and transparency in the follow-up process, so we understand in return the possibility of the project to actually take place and the resources we will have to allocate for that project.