Mark Redfern of Wieland Electric argues that cabling methodology can have a critical role in ensuring building performance, as well as impacting installation schedules.

There is a strong trend towards making every aspect of construction ‘smarter’ – from design and installation, through to ongoing management and maintenance of the building. While technology and automation has tended to dominate discussion, it is important not to lose sight of the ‘basics’ and how the design and application of the fundamental components of a building can also be ‘smarter’. The critical role cabling plays in terms of its impact on installation schedules, as well the building’s performance, is not always fully appreciated, yet it has the potential to have a significant impact. Careful consideration of the cabling methodology will deliver significant benefits – in the short-term (during installation) and throughout the life-time of a building.

In the case of modular wiring systems, cable assemblies and enclosures are manufactured off-site, so that on-site installation merely involves ‘plugging in’ the various components to complete the power, lighting or data installation. A structured wiring system with ‘plug and play’ connectivity, supplied complete to site for easy connection, can typically deliver time savings in installation of 70%. Furthermore, taking into account the slightly higher capital costs of structured wiring compared to traditional wiring, an average 30% saving on final installed cost can be achieved.

There are certain types of projects where even greater benefits can be realised, such as high bay lighting in buildings with high roof spaces, as any work on the lighting will require specialist access equipment. Not only is installation time reduced by using structured cabling systems, but additional savings can also be achieved by minimising disruption of the operations at ground level.

Structured wiring systems are ideal for installation of lighting circuits and other power requirements, located above ceilings, because they are easy and quick to install. A key feature that facilitates this ease of installation is the use of round connector systems – a design employed by Wieland’s modular cabling solutions. This type of connector system makes it possible to assemble modules without any specialist knowledge. It also reduces the installation workload by replacing the conventional screw connection with a pluggable solution.

Additional time-savings can be achieved by making use of other innovative developments, such as a flat cable connection system that combines a flexible busbar and cable into one product. These use a safe tap-off adapter with a piercing contact that eliminates cutting and stripping of cable, thereby reducing installation time considerably.

There are also key advantages to integrating different types of cabling when possible to maximise 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 integrating it with a DALI-based programmable control system.


Future-proofing installation

While the benefits achieved during the initial installation of services are clear, there are also ongoing benefits to using structured cabling systems – it is very unlikely that any commercial industrial building will remain unchanged through its life. Typically, there will be changes in building layout and usage every few years and the services will often need to be re-configured to accommodate these changes.

With traditional wiring, any such re-configuration would be time-consuming, expensive and disruptive to the activities in the building. In contrast, structured wiring brings an inherent flexibility that makes it very easy to reconfigure lighting or other small power to accommodate changes in building usage or layout.

Services can be quickly adapted to accommodate changes to the building and the way it is used, and this ability for ‘continuous commissioning’ is increasingly being demanded by more savvy building owners and operators. Moreover, 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, meets 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 providing a smarter approach than 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, which is now the lighting technology of choice for the majority of new lighting installations and lighting upgrades. As well as the energy saving and longer life benefits of LED lighting, the smaller light sources also support the use of more discreet lighting systems with more compact luminaires.

However, if they are used in conjunction with traditional bulky cabling these aesthetic benefits may not be realised. Structured wiring systems offer an alternative by making use of the latest generation of ‘micro-connectors’. These will fit into very small spaces and are therefore easy to hide.

Modular wiring systems are becoming standard practice for BUS, power and lighting distribution in modern offices, retail, healthcare, educational and leisure environments and many experts forecast that traditional conduit and cabling methods will be replaced by modular wiring systems on projects throughout the UK. Intelligent buildings are already a reality and smart construction processes will very quickly become the norm. By ensuring that a smart approach is applied at every level, structured cabling can have a key role to play in both the construction and the ongoing management of smarter buildings. In the next five years, demand for flexible efficient modular cabling solutions will continue to grow, but there are also some exciting market trends that are coming to the fore – including DC power in buildings, power over Ethernet and further miniaturisation. A move towards increased standardisation on projects, in the future, will also help to deliver further efficiencies.