A question of scale

Paul Courson, Managing Director of Cablofil, discusses the need to make modern buildings scalable and explains how steel wire tray cable management can help to achieve a scalable approach.

Our built environment is changing.  Where once a building would stay true to its original purpose and layout for a generation, these days our buildings need to be flexible enough to grow and adapt to changing requirements, often with little notice and preferably with as little investment and disruption as possible.  It’s a key premise of sustainability – the easier it is for a building to evolve in line with changing needs, the greater its lifespan and the less waste there is involved with remodelling and replacement.

Achieving that flexibility is not always easy, however, because anticipating future changes in end user requirements, trends or sector developments is a risky and inaccurate science. To address this, specifiers are increasingly looking for building products and techniques that enable flexibility to be built in at design stage and, when it comes to the M&E specification, the choice of cable management system is key in this regard.

The scalability example

The need to adapt quickly to accommodate changing needs is true across a wide range of sectors, from offices and retail to hospitals and schools.  However, the sector that has led the way in the concept of scalability is the data centre sector.

The combination of technological developments and market trends in the data centre sector make the speed and extent of change particularly difficult to predict, which, in the past, led to a ‘big is beautiful’ culture, with operators over-specifying data centres based on predicted future growth rather than current need. The trend was driven by the need to future-proof the facility and respond quickly to growth in demand but it was a costly and inefficient approach that led to data halls lying empty and unused, tying up capital without generating revenue. Laterally, this tendency towards over specification has been replaced by a scalability model, whereby the ability to add or reconfigure services is a key design imperative. 

Cable management provides an excellent illustration of the principles involved in this scalable approach.  There are three types of cable management systems commonly used to contain cables in a commercial environment; ladder tray, perforated steel and wire mesh trays. While ladder and perforated tray systems are often perceived to provide better protection and higher loading capacity to business critical cables, steel wire tray offers greater potential for scalability, reduced energy consumption and ease of installation/reconfiguration.

The use of steel wire tray as a scalable cable management solution for data centres is proven and it is suitable for almost any installation.  Installed quickly and simply, the ‘basket’ system is 90% free air, so air can circulate around the cables ensuring natural ventilation that prevents cables from overheating.  This, in turn, prevents energy wastage. The Cablofil system’s unique safety edge also helps to ensure that cables are not damaged when they are pulled through the cable management system during installation, as well as preventing any snagging during maintenance, and the open structure of the tray makes it easy to identify and access cables for maintenance too.

Easy adaptability

The features of steel wire tray that make it so suitable for scalable data centre installations are equally beneficial in any commercial environment where scalability and adaptability are important considerations. The open structure of the basket means that additional runs of tray can be added or oversized tray can be specified to enable more cables to be added at a later date.

Although steel wire tray does not contain as much steel as perforated steel tray, its design principles ensure that weight is distributed evenly across the tray, so steel wire tray has the same load bearing capabilities while weighing much less. This means that a lightweight cable management infrastructure can be used to accommodate large amounts of power and data cables, without requiring any additions to the cable tray installation.

Where additions to the cable management infrastructure are required as part of an up-scaling process, a steel wire cable management layout can be changed or extended with very little effort and expense because the system is so easy to install and reconfigure. Additional runs of steel wire tray can be suspended from existing runs in a ‘bunk bed’ effect to enable the same configuration with additional capacity. Alternatively, if cabling needs to be re-routed, new runs of steel wire tray can be added and jointed to the existing network with minimal expense and disruption.  It is often even possible to re-use lengths of steel wire tray in a new configuration.

The modular model

One of the approaches that is being pioneered by some contractors is the installation of service ‘modules’, which are prefabricated off site and simply bolted together like Lego within the building. Because steel wire tray is so flexible and lightweight it is ideal for this type of installation and provides significant advantages over other cable management methods for installation in tight or awkward spaces.

With a modular approach, the services installation can be extended by simply adding on additional modules or modules can be adapted or reconfigured off site to minimise disruption before being replaced.

Accessorise in style

The range of accessories available is critical in determining the suitability of a steel wire tray system for a scalable approach too, as this will not only affect the speed and ease of the initial installation but will also help to determine how easy it is to enhance or reconfigure the cable management at a later date and to manage increased maintenance requirements.

Cablofil’s track record in the data centre sector led to the development of a range of drop out plates that allow the exit of cables at any given point while ensuring that the permitted bend radius of the cable can still be accommodated. Meanwhile, for installations in the floor voids, brackets that allow installation of steel wire tray directly to floor pedestals offer a time-saving, cost efficient solution that provides a robust installation while reducing the level of infrastructure required.  Alternatively, raised stand-off brackets provide another option, as these can be fixed directly to the floor while enabling the installation to maintain steel wire tray’s integral ventilation advantages.

Limitless possibilities

Future-proofing has become one of the buzz words that have been used to justify over-specification in some quarters but, in these times of austerity, basing any specification on future requirements is a luxury that few can afford. Instead a scalable approach allows a building to adapt quickly to changing requirements if a clear strategy for how this will be done is worked into both the design and the specification.

Using a high quality steel wire tray cable management system can allow a building to increase capacity at short notice in just this way, offering maximum flexibility along with genuine functionality.

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