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, 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. 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. 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. For example, the use of structured wiring with ‘plug and play’ connectivity has been shown to deliver significant savings in installation time.

This was clearly illustrated in the development of 5-7 St Helens Place in the City of London, where the Metalynx2 structured wiring system was used for connection of power and lighting. This allowed for recessed modular lighting and power to be fed via separate main distribution boards with home runs along the containment route out to open plan office areas. Wieland’s extenders, tees and fused spurs were also used to feed lighting control modules and coil fans on site.

This use of a structured wiring system, supplied complete to site for easy connection, allowed for a 70% reduction in man-hours for installation. The system was specified and installed by The Designer Group and the company’s UK Managing Director, Nick Baish, observed: “The solution offered by Wieland has reduced our production time and offered a good quality installation with flexibility for future CAT ‘B’ fit out”.

Similar benefits were experienced at 10 Hammersmith Grove, where the Metalynx2 system was used to distribute all the lighting and power throughout the building, which includes 8 floors of office space, a mezzanine area and the public ground floor section. Project Manager Bobby Vance of contractors Imtech Engineering Services recalled: “We used the modular system for simple and quick installation. With a short installation time on-site the ability to provide a flexible solution during CAT A works meant Wieland’s modular product was ideal for the project”.

Experience across many such projects has shown 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.

There are also clear benefits to integrating different types of cabling when possible to maximise the efficiency benefits. At the Cannon Place commercial complex in the City of London, for example, Wieland’s Metalynx structured wiring system was not only used to connect the supply of light fittings, fan coil units, small power and cleaner sockets; it was also integrated with a DALI-based programmable control system.

Structured wiring also makes it easier to reconfigure systems in the future to accommodate changes in building usage or layout, thus supporting compliance with the government’s ‘Soft Landings’ concept.

Another potential benefit for contractors is 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. So, for example, mechanical operatives working at high level on pipework could also make the lighting connections.

There are also opportunities to make the cabling more discreet when combined with newer technologies such as LED lighting. As LED lighting itself tends to be more compact than traditional luminaires it makes sense to use ‘micro-connectors’ that are easier to hide.

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.