By saving time, money, and ensuring compliance with the latest regulations, modern software can be a vital tool in the design of electrical installations. Here, the ECA’s Giuliano Digilio explains how software can make a real difference.

Using software to design electrical installations isn’t anything new. However, it’s now easier than ever for electrical design engineers to put together compliant and cost effective designs due to the advances made in the packages that are available. These developments have seen clients and contractors save valuable time and money on-site.

Software can speed up the time consuming and complex process of designing an installation since a significant part of the process is calculation-based. This is a lesson that is already well understood in many countries across Europe.

Since 1991, it has been mandatory for electrical installations in Norway to be verified by design documentation. This requirement has since spread to Denmark, Sweden and Finland. While in the UK it’s still not essential to have verification of the design documentation, there are several software packages available that have learnt from the Nordic experience. As a result, UK design engineers and contractors now have the opportunity to benefit from two decades of wisdom and software package development.

Since 2007, the Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA) has been working with its Norwegian counterpart, NELFO, to develop software specifically for the UK market. This package is based on the successful Nordic FEBDOK software – the package now used across Scandinavia. The end result is Designgenie. This software can be used to ensure installations comply with the latest edition of BS 7671:2008 and includes information on more than 12,000 European protective devices, as well as those devices particularly favoured in the UK.

Home grown help

The UK has many electrical installation requirements and installation practices that differ from other European countries, and as such, it is important to use home grown, well established software. These requirements involve a great deal of calculation in order to complete a compliant design. Doing this manually would take a design engineer some time as it would necessitate detailed conversations with manufacturers and reading through industry standards, as well as the Wiring Regulation books. Software eliminates the need to do this and so reduces the time burden. Products such as Designgenie have this local information stored within, meaning calculations can be done in seconds, letting design engineers get on with the other elements of their jobs.

Running a design through software also makes it extremely easy to make alterations to existing designs. This is of particular benefit as inevitably projects evolve, change and will require redesigning in their lifetime. More importantly, ensuring compliance with the relevant standards and regulations is all done instantaneously. Software makes final designs and adaptations cheaper for clients, contractors and design engineers by creating a cost effective model to work on, which reduces the time spent in the design process – often one of the most expensive parts of an electrical project.

Waste not, want not

Design software can also play its part in ensuring that cable losses are kept to a minimum, and the Designgenie software can calculate the cable losses over the length of each cable within an installation. The consequence of this is that a good design engineer can work to optimise the project by altering the configuration to minimise losses. And because the software can automatically check to ensure compliance with the industry standards and regulations, this can save a substantial amount of time in the design phase and result in a more efficient design for the lifetime of the electrical installation.

Ultimately, investing in good electrical design software is a sensible approach for any electrical consultancy practice, electrical design engineer or electrical contractor. Not only does it reduce workloads, it ensures that designs comply with all the relevant standards. It can also act as a powerful bidding tool – as energy efficiency becomes increasingly important to clients, software can ensure installations offer the absolute minimum energy wastage but at the greatest cost saving.

Given that training is a fairly simple step, better use of software in electrical installation design should seem a fairly obvious choice – the ECA offers a free one day course in Designgenie. Many in the wider building services industry are already using building modelling software to deliver more efficient and better value projects. Clients are going to expect those in the electrical installation sector to offer the same level of service. Those who are ready to grasp the future will be the ones ready to reap the rewards in the years to come.

Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA)

T: 0207 313 4800