New Energy

ELECTRICAL TRENDSElectrical contractors are tapping into new methods.

By Philip Santoro

Although 2016 did not bring the momentum the construction industry was hoping for, the 2017 outlook remains strong with predictions for continued growth in nearly every sector. Dodge Data & Analytics’ 2017 Dodge Construction Outlook report predicts total U.S. construction starts will advance five percent to $713 billion, with commercial building increasing six percent. Following relatively flat growth in 2016, predictions like these may be music to contractors’ ears.

As the number of commercial projects taking place this year continues to grow, there are several electrical trends influencing new builds. The industry is increasingly looking for ways to improve workers’ efficiency and productivity, reduce costs associated with construction and save valuable space in new developments. This has led to the adoption of new technologies and equipment that help contractors meet the demands of the project while saving time, labor and space and reducing overall project costs. 

BIM Picks Up Momentum

The industry continues to face a skilled labor shortage, requiring builders and construction leaders to look for ways to improve their efficiency and productivity while cutting costs and improving project design. Although building information modeling (BIM) has been used primarily by architects and structural engineers since the early 2000s, it is starting to pick up momentum in the construction space, becoming a necessary tool for builders on commercial projects.

With 3-D building models, electrical contractors gain a better understanding of the building design and its performance requirements. This allows them to identify the best products for the project and directly integrate product information into the design to ensure better accuracy in design and materials. In addition to improved 3-D visualization, BIM provides and maintains access to a great deal of information to include things like specifications and performance data that go way beyond just size, shape and orientation of specific products. BIM improves both workflows and model accuracy, meaning builders and contractors can expect:

  • Improved efficiency: Building products can be selected and placed into designs and configured to meet project requirements by answering a few quick questions. BIM allows builders to decrease overall project duration by helping to reduce errors, omissions, modifications and repetitions that might otherwise slow down work.
  • Greater accuracy: With data that is updated in real time, BIM eliminates dependency on possibly outdated information from in-house content libraries. These real-time updates allow builders to conduct more accurate performance monitoring and asset management to improve the accuracy of the overall design and specification process.
  • Increased productivity: Allows builders to minimize project management, foster more communication and collaboration, identify errors earlier in the process and reduces cost while improving quality of work. 

During the construction phase of a project, BIM serves as a valuable cost-saving tool and once the project is completed, it can be turned over to building owners for use by those responsible for maintenance and operations decisions.

Maximizing Productivity with Prefabrication

Like BIM, prefabrication has already claimed its stake in the construction industry but electrical contractors have been slower to adopt this capability. However, both BIM and prefabrication are seeing increased adoption by contractors for commercial projects.

Electrical contractor organizations are utilizing prefabrication techniques with some regularity and are realizing valuable benefits in the form of more output from their available hours. Prefabrication offers on the job efficiency, eliminates errors, and improves safety and logistics. Using prefabrication also allows contractors to reallocate labor by making it possible for lesser-skilled workers to operate prefab equipment, eliminating the additional hours normally required by skilled electricians to manually do the same tasks. This frees up skilled workers for more complex tasks. 

For an industry that is facing a shortage of skilled labor, prefabrication, when implemented and used effectively across a supply chain, allow contractors to reduce overall and skilled labor time so they can take on a larger volume of jobs. When implemented alongside BIM, contractors will find it easier to integrate electrical systems into their designs both in the 3-D model and on the job site. 

Using Integrated Products

The modern construction environment has resulted in shrinking electrical rooms as project owners demand more rentable square footage. To ensure adequate room for power distribution needs, electrical contractors and specifying engineers are using integrated power distribution equipment. Although this equipment has been on the market for years, its use has escalated in response to recent construction and market trends.

Integrated equipment combines electrical distribution, building controls and automation into a single factory-assembled and pre-wired enclosure. Integrated equipment may include modular panelboards and freestanding enclosures. Electrical distribution equipment and building management controls can be combined into a single system for more complex applications. Using integrated equipment can save valuable floor space, shorten construction cycle times, and reduce installation and material handling costs.

During a time when a smaller supply of skilled workers are taking on an increasing number of new projects, construction leaders are on the lookout for new tools and techniques that will help them improve efficiency and productivity and reduce costs. Electrical contractors and specifying engineers who take advantage of technologic advances, such as BIM and integrated products, will be able to meet this demand while saving themselves and their businesses valuable time and money.

Philip Santoro is an electrical contractor segment manager for Schneider Electric with more than 20 years of experience in sales, operations, and price management with a specific focus on the construction industry. Santoro recently took on a new role as electrical contractor segment manager with Schneider Electric, where he is responsible for leading programs and initiatives that develop, strengthen and support relationships with electrical contractors and electrical contractor organizations across different markets. 

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