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Facilities engineering evolved from "plant engineering" in the early 1990s as U.S. workplaces became more complex. Practitioners preferred this term because it more accurately reflected the multidisciplinary demands for specialized conditions in a wider variety of indoor environments, not merely manufacturing plants.

Today, a facilities engineer (vs. a facilities manager) typically has hands-on responsibility for the employer's electrical engineering, maintenance, environmental, health, safety, energy, controls/instrumentation, civil engineering, and HVAC needs. The need for expertise in these categories varies widely depending on whether the facility is, for example, a single-use site or a multi-use campus; whether it is an office, school, hospital, museum, processing/production plant, etc.

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