Data requirements drive specification

Tight margins and intense competition are affording electrical contractors little room for manoeuvre in pricing up and delivering contracts, with the best hitting tight schedules on time and to budget while maintaining a viable margin. Jeremy Dodge, Head of Marketing & Technical Services for Marshall-Tufflex explains.

As construction output continues to slide, industry commentators are forecasting a bleak winter for the sector, which has seen one of the longest declines in business for some four years. And there’s no respite forecast for the foreseeable future. We believe the current market conditions will remain flat for at least 18 months.

Lack of construction work means projects are hugely competitive and priced near the bone. Functionality is generally the specification driver, with installers selecting the system they feel best fits the spec and installation. Electrical engineers cannot afford delays or problems on site, making the right product specification absolutely critical. Not only must materials must be on site at the right time, correct and undamaged, installers have to consider surety of supply, ease of installation and specifying systems that can multi-task. Close relationships with wholesalers and manufacturers are key to achieving this, as are identifying market trends and being prepared to deliver no-fuss solutions that work.

Industry trends

We are finding that data cabling requirements are now the key driver behind cable management specifications. Client demand for faster communications is driving the move to Cat 7 structured cabling, which provides faster, higher quality and capacity transmission, less network interference and fewer errors.

Historically local area networks were designed with a Category 3 circuit for voice transmission and Category 5 or 5e circuit for data. This configuration now seems almost prehistoric and cannot cope with the rapidly increasing data rates and networked devices installed in commercial premises, and increasingly, homes. However, with the increase in data cabling performance comes an increase in bandwidth and a thickening of the wiring, which presents specific problems for network designers and installers; installed data bend radius need to be a minimum of four times the cable diameter, and even then we recommend checking with the wiring manufacturer.

Cat 7 cabling is around 7.5mm to 15mm in diameter and therefore requires a larger bend radius to ensure it is not pinched or compressed, both of which will affect its performance with data lost in transmission or streaming quality affected. Therefore a Cat 7 installation may require data bend radii of up to 60mm, although this is rare. We find that most installations are satisfied with a 50mm bend radius and for these we recommend our Twin Plus, Twin165, Maxi and Sterling cable management profiles.

Previously when we have discussed the Cat requirements of a project it has often revolved around future proofing the installation to cope with future data requirements. This is no longer the case because despite the pressure on budgets many clients want the best solution for the present, not the future. Cable management manufacturers have to respond to this shift in demand, with larger containment systems (or containment with more space for data), increased bend radius and consideration for less flexible, thicker data cables. Electrical engineers not only need to be well-versed on this issue they must know which containment products are suitable for higher level Cat installations. This is particularly important given that commercial refurbishment projects are currently being driven by the need for companies to upgrade IT systems.

The requirement to comply with Part M of the Building Regulations (Access to and Use of Buildings) continues to drive the market for colour contrasting sockets etc with the aim of assisting visually impaired people. Marshall-Tufflex has a number of solutions to satisfy Part M and often these are specified in conjunction with our Bio Trunking antimicrobial systems, which are 99.9% effective against MRSA, Klebsiella pneumonia, E.Coli, Salmonella, Legionella etc.

Product knowledge

Product knowledge can be key in delivering a successful job. A good example of this is the installation of Marshall-Tufflex’s Twin Plus trunking into the Selby Community Project in North Yorkshire. This £22 million scheme incorporated the town’s council offices and community hospital into one building, with cable management required throughout. Consulting engineers DSSR knew that Twin Plus came in both a standard and antimicrobial Bio version, making its sole specification perfect for the contract, with Bio Twin Plus installed into the healthcare facilities and the standard profile into the council offices. The specification made economic sense as installer Airedale Mechanical & Electrical had just one containment system to work with and a constant design aesthetic was achieved throughout.

For more complicated installations, for example where dedicated compartments are required for data/power/voice; large volumes of cabling needs accommodating; a centre compartment is required for accessories or where there is insufficient space due to the depth of the trunking then three compartment trunking systems are a great solution.

We have systems to suit almost all specifications, from our all-curved Odyssey profile (available in standard or Bio option) to Sterling Profile which can be sub-divided from two to three compartments, to PowerPoles and PowerPosts, which manage power, data and communication services to island and non-perimeter work stations.

EMI screening is an additional option with no reduction in cable capacity. Combine our twin and triple compartment systems and we believe we have the widest range in the market. It is also quick and easy to install, for example our all-curved Odyssey profile has single piece fittings, integral cable tray and adjustable fittings.

Right first time

With competition tough and margins incredibly tight, electrical contractors have a vital role to play in ensuring they install the electrical products and systems most suitable for the project, delivering exactly what the client requires quickly, on schedule and without fuss or unnecessary on-site modifications. Incorrect specifications can lead to on-site delays, product being stripped and replaced or engineers being called upon to make modifications. Delays push up project costs and quickly eat into margins.

There’s also the issue of surety of supply. The economic crisis has claimed many victims, with more destined to fall before the economy lifts. No one wants to be left high and dry when a supplier or manufacturer ceases trading. Marshall-Tufflex is a family-owned business of 70 years standing and firmly committed to its cable management manufacturing plants on the south coast of England. These plants are backed by a UK-wide sales network and technical support facilities, making it easy for installers to make contact should they need technical input or run into a problem on site. We are also keenly aware that availability of product can often win a job and work accordingly.

Completing projects on time and to budget are non-negotiable aspects of any contract – the trick is to identify and integrate the electrical services that offer speed and ease of installation with performance and good looks.

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