Modern cable management for schools

Public sector spend on building projects, in particular educational and health facilities, has been one of the few glimmers of hope for the construction industry this year – even after the government put a squeeze on some of the funding available.

Contracting companies and building product manufacturers unfamiliar with public sector work have been quick to throw their hats into the ring in an attempt to secure a slice of the much-needed business – a good example of this scramble to win work was the 50 or so contractors who applied to be part of the academies framework in England.  The framework, part of the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) initiative, has £4 billion to spend on the design and build of academies.

Those working on public sector contracts – especially education related -­ will know that they are awash with acronyms, ranging from the well-accepted PFI (Private Finance Initiative) to BSF, PCP (Primary Capital Programme), PFS (Partnerships for Schools) and LEP (Local Education Partnership). Given the huge sums of money being invested and the manner in which the money is allocated and spent, we feel that knowledge of public procurement processes is vital in assisting clients with achieving the most desired outcome.

Most school projects are delivered via PFI. We find that this makes each job very different and calls for closer contact with site – more time is spent there than working off-site with an architect or consultant as would be normal on a private project. There are also decision makers up and down the chain of command and it pays to remain in close contact through the specification, installation and hand-over.

With schools, it is possible to push aside the jargon and buzz words in order to understand what’s required of new-build and refurbished educational facilities. Quite simply they must provide an ultra-modern learning environment for today and be capable of adapting to the needs of future decades.

Applying this mantra to cable management is easy. All new and refurbished schools and colleges require the very best in ICT (information and communication technology) provision. For example, classrooms no longer have blackboards – teachers and pupils use interactive electronic whiteboards, along with laptops and other internet-enabled devices. This creates a need for effective and safe delivery/management of power and data cables.

As a cable management systems supplier we are obviously only involved later on in the build schedule. And, as specifications and fit-out requirements have become more hi-tech, so the demands on trunking systems have changed and our range of solutions has evolved over the 25 or so years we’ve worked with the education sector.

A good example of this is MT32, our plug-and-play power connection system. It’s not a trunking solution but works in conjunction with trunking to deliver a super fast installation that can be reconfigured. Therefore MT32 is great for future-proofing projects – install it in an ICT suite today to feed power to, for example, 15 computers and when 15 become 25 computers, simply unclip the front cover of the trunking, plug-in extra lengths of MT32 in order to add new sockets, circuit test and sign off. Not only does this negate the need for a major re-wiring exercise, MT32 can reduce installation times, achieving double the workload with the same resource.

Perfect choice

Future-proofing data installations can also be achieved through the correct specification of cable containment. Historically local area networks were designed with a Category 3 circuit for voice transmission and a Category 5 or 5e circuit for data. This configuration eventually failed to cope with rapidly increasing data rates/networked devices and was replaced with Cat 5e throughout. Now the industry is looking to Cat 6 and above to deliver performance required now or in the future.

However, as data wiring develops to handle larger amounts of information and networked devices, it becomes dimensionally larger, creating problems for designers and installers, particularly when cabling needs feeding around corners. To give an example, Cat 6 cabling is approximately 5-6mm in diameter, with ‘data bends’ of up to 50mm required within cable containment systems to channel it around corners. Cat 7 cabling is about 10mm in diameter and poses real issues when it comes to cable containment. It sounds innocuous enough, but if more space is not allowed for these ‘data bends’ and the cable is fed through a standard radius bend in a cable containment system problems may arise – subjecting Cat 6 or higher cabling to standard bends can pinch or compress the copper data cables, resulting in a drop in performance – data may be lost in transmission or streaming quality affected.

Marshall-Tufflex has invested heavily in developing cable management systems appropriate for use with Cat 6 cabling. Design engineers looking for bend radius of 25mm or 50mm can consider its Sterling range or its tamper-proof, all-curved profile, Odyssey system.

Future-proofing installations by installing Cat 6 compliant trunking is a major consideration where networks will be required to handle large volumes of devices and information. But what other factors should design and build specialists be considering when considering cable management solutions for schools?

Function or form

How about both? The latest generation of trunking can offer great performance coupled with architect-pleasing curves, so there is no need to compromise on design. Curved profile trunking also offers another huge advantage – it simply cannot be used as a shelf. Not only does this keep classrooms, corridors etc clear of clutter and litter, it also aids cleaning since the PVC-U can be easily wiped clean, a major benefit when specified in sensitive environments such as schools. The curved profiles are also completely in keeping with the design of many new schools, with architects utilising softer lines to make learning environments more appealing.

Material choice

Trunking is usually steel, aluminium or PVC-U, a proven material that it is easier and quicker to install than metal systems. Not only does it reduce time on site for contractors and maintenance staff, it also reduces facility down-time during refurbishments. In addition, PVC-U systems can be supplied with EMC screening where a copper spray is applied to the inside of the trunking, creating a Faraday Cage to exclude electrostatic interference, delivering the required screening without compromising trunking capacity. PVC-U is also tough and hard-wearing, making it a good choice for areas where hard knocks are inevitable. When specifying PVC-U trunking check that it complies with British Standards BS4678 & BS EN 50086 which govern impact strength.

Bio-logical

Cable containment manufactured from PVC-U can be impregnated with an antimicrobial agent to help prevent the spread of infections such as MRSA, E-Coli, Salmonella and a range of everyday bugs. Antimicrobial trunking systems come in two variants:

  • The silver-based formulation is added to the PVC-U during manufacture, ensuring that it is evenly distributed throughout the product. Should the trunking get scratched, the active agent continues to do its job. This is the system used by Marshall-Tufflex.
  • The silver-based formulation is applied to the surface of the cable containment. However, once this coating is scratched, germs can penetrate the surface layer of these products and breed unchecked.

Specifiers should give priority consideration to trunking with the antimicrobial agent integral to the product to ensure maximum performance throughout the lifetime of the trunking. Those thinking of using an antimicrobial system should confirm that it is registered with the Environmental Protection
Agency and compliant with the European Biocidal Products Directive.

Conclusion

Correctly specified cable management systems have the ability to neatly and efficiently deliver power and data with the minimum fuss and little to no maintenance, particularly when manufactured and supplied by a specialist producer with in-depth experience of the PFI sector.

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