Wieland Electric Discuss Getting Smart With Cabling
- Published: Tuesday, 06 December 2016 16:42
When people talk about ‘smart’ buildings they are usually referring to automation. However, there are also strong commercial reasons for getting smarter about the electrical fit-out using products that support a more intelligent approach, says Mark Redfern of Wieland Electric
There is no question that the design of buildings is becoming more ‘intelligent’ – partly driven by technological advances and partly by improved project delivery through initiatives such as Building Information Modelling (BIM). In turn, these improvements in design can make it easier for building owners to operate and maintain their built assets through their life.
Clearly there are many aspects of intelligent design that contribute to this overall trend, though it is the most futuristic of these that tend to get the publicity and generate a level of excitement. However, it’s important not to lose sight of the more fundamental components that make up a building.
A good example of this is the cabling, without which such buildings would lack the connectivity required for smart performance. Yet because cabling is such a familiar and commonplace component of the building it is actually quite easy to overlook the critical role it plays. In this context, it is important to understand that the term ‘intelligent building’ actually applies to a number of different criteria – it isn’t just about automation!
So it’s important to apply the principles of intelligent construction to the cabling methodology.
One advantage of this is the ability to reduce the overall costs of construction for the end client, while maintaining profitability for the contractor. The use of structured wiring with ‘plug and play’ connectivity has been shown to deliver significant savings in installation time.
For instance, a structured wiring system can be used to connect power and lighting, allowing lighting and power to be fed via separate main distribution boards with home runs along the containment route out to open plan office areas. In this scenario, extenders, tees and fused spurs are used to feed lighting control modules and fan coils on site.
This use of a structured wiring system, supplied complete to site for easy connection, has been shown to generate a significant reduction in installation time. Experience across many such projects has confirmed that savings of 70% in installation time are typical when structured wiring systems are used. When this data is analysed intelligently, by taking into account the slightly higher capital costs of structured wiring compared to traditional wiring, there is still typically an average 30% saving on final installed cost.
Whilst this is an average saving across all project types, there are some projects where the benefits are even greater. Obvious examples include high bay lighting in ‘shed’ type buildings where any work on the lighting will require specialist access equipment. In such cases, as well as reducing installation time and working at height, additional savings are achieved by minimising disruption of the operations at ground level.
All of which contributes to the aspirations of the construction industry and its customers to reduce the overall costs of construction.
There are also clear benefits to integrating different types of cabling when possible to maximise the efficiency benefits. An example of this would be the use of structured wiring to not only connect the supply of light fittings, fan coil units, small power and cleaner sockets; but also integrate it with a DALI-based programmable control system.
The potential benefits extend to contractors too, through the ability to make better use of their multi-skilled operatives. For instance, the plugs on such systems are configured so they can only be plugged in one way – the correct way. This means that a qualified electrician isn’t required to make these connections. An obvious example is the use of mechanical operatives working at high level on pipework to also make the lighting connections.
Of course, it is essential that connections at the board are made by qualified electricians but a simple plug-in operation is well within the scope of any multi-skilled operative.
Most of the benefits discussed so far relate to the initial installation of the system. However, it’s important not to lose sight of the additional benefits that structured wiring brings to a building through its life. The vast majority of commercial and industrial buildings will undergo significant changes in layout through their life and, in the past, re-configuring cabling has been both disruptive and expensive.
In contrast, with structured wiring there is an inherent flexibility that makes it very easy to reconfigure lighting or other small power to accommodate changes in building usage or layout. This means the building operator can quickly adapt services to accommodate such changes as part of a ‘continuous commissioning’ strategy - supporting compliance with the government’s ‘Soft Landings’ concept.
Also, the components of a structured wiring system can be re-used, whereas with conventional wiring there is considerable waste during a re-wiring project. Consequently, structured wiring helps to reduce waste, meet recycling targets and supports the sustainability objectives of designing intelligent buildings.
Keeping pace with change
While structured wiring has an important role to play in traditional cabling systems it is also important to be aware of any changing requirements that result from the introduction of new technologies. A case in point is LED lighting, where these smaller light sources are often used to produce more discreet lighting systems – yet traditional bulky cabling may negate this aesthetic benefit. The alternative is to make use of the latest generation of ‘micro-connectors’ that will fit into very small spaces and are therefore easy to hide. This can be particularly beneficial for applications such as showcases and display shelving as only small holes are required for the wiring.
Intelligent buildings are already a reality and smart construction processes will very quickly become the norm as BIM becomes the project delivery model of choice. It seems clear that structured cabling has an important role to play in both the construction and the ongoing management of these smarter buildings.