Modular wiring systems are growing in popularity among UK electrical contractors, specifiers and end-users, providing significant improvements over hard wired alternatives and reducing onsite installation times by up to 70%. Here, Dave Lewis, Managing Director of Apex Wiring Solutions, explains more about the technology and the benefits provided.
The UK’s approach to electrical installations had by and large remained unchanged until relatively recent times, relying on traditional hard wired systems. However, the advent of modular wiring systems is now offering an alternative and today many large scale capital projects such as hospitals, leisure complexes and hotels, as well as sports infrastructure for global events like the London Olympic Games 2012, involve modular solutions. The technology, using advanced quality manufacturing techniques and materials, represents the latest in cutting edge, cost effective electrical installation solutions – a factory assembled and fully tested cabling system which replaces the traditional wiring of electrical sub circuits.
So how does it differ from conventional systems? The main difference is that modular systems avoid the need for any on site electrical connections because they are designed and produced off-site in a quality controlled environment before being delivered to site pre-assembled and fully tested, rather than the more traditional conduit, trunking and hard wired system. This eliminates the need for onsite electrical connections and cuts the number of qualified electricians required to carry out installation work, with associated advantages in installation time and health and safety.
Because modular wiring systems offer a very high degree of flexibility and versatility for both the installer and end-user it delivers some significant benefits and improved long term project performance. The risk element for the installer is reduced while installation times and the amount of on-site skilled electrical labour are cut. Cable snagging and site waste levels are also reduced while site safety is never compromised. In addition, because product is factory assembled in a highly controlled production environment, quality levels are assured.
Most modular electrical wiring systems work on a radial circuit as opposed to the ring main common to UK installations, again providing advantages. Fewer cable lengths are required and less copper is needed because the radial installation runs one way only while fault finding is easier because any break or interruption results in the immediate disconnection of the electrical supply to the whole circuit. This is not always apparent with a ring main installation while adopting the radial approach delivers a faster, more cost-effective way to work, removing the requirement to adhere to Regulation 433-02-4 in the 17th Edition of the Wiring Regulations.
Moreover, because a typical system might feature pre-wired factory tested pluggable distribution boards for supplying lighting and power over a large industrial site or multi-storey office complex, the use of prefabricated connectors and preassembled cables provides a high performance, reliable and flexible wiring solution which offers significant improvements over alternative systems, reducing onsite installation times by up to 70%.
The modular approach may call for a different way of working among main contractors and clients because more design and planning is required at the beginning of a project. However, one of the great advantages of the modular approach reveals itself during the second-fix stage where pre-assembled units ensure connection times are much faster than traditional hard wired – electricians simply plug together the different components to complete the system, saving time and money in the process.
The electrical wiring and accessories sector is evolving to meet the challenges placed on it by the introduction of new technologies, the availability of affordable skilled labour and the latest methods of construction such as off-site pre-fabrication, green and lean. So now, during the tough economic conditions faced not only here in the UK but also overseas, there’s more pressure than ever before on everybody within the supply chain to deliver projects on time and within budget, and achieving cost savings in the process wherever possible which opens the door to modular wiring in the process.
The UK has often led the way in pioneering new electrical wiring technologies and solutions and modular wiring is no different. We are already leading the way in Europe and moving rapidly towards fully integrated systems similar to those found in the more mature markets of North America.
Elsewhere, there are strong markets evolving in places like the Middle East, Asia and Australia where mechanical and electrical specifiers are now beginning to look seriously at the benefits of the modular approach with the adoption of some form of pluggable system because one of the great advantages of modular wiring is its simplicity and versatility, which means in practical terms virtually any installation regardless of size and complexity, can be converted to a modular system.
This includes projects within the residential, retail, healthcare, commercial and education sectors as modular wiring’s flexibility means that there’s no minimum project size. From single room solutions to the largest multi-million pound new build hospitals, systems can be either retro-fitted or newly installed to provide users with safe, reliable and convenient power and lighting services.
We are seeing the majority of specifications coming through a combination of mechanical and electrical contractors and consultants but we are also seeing building engineers and project managers on some of the large new build and PFI developments becoming involved in specifying product.
Unquestionably, modular wiring systems are here to stay. We are seeing more and more interest from the both UK and international markets because the cost and time saving benefits provided are becoming increasingly recognised, enabling even the most complex installations to be completed quicker and more efficiently than ever before. We will continue to see modular wiring become more and more the norm with less input required by product suppliers as all in the supply chain become increasingly familiar with the concept and systems. Moreover, companies like Apex are actively working with specifiers and their customers to ensure they understand what modular wiring offers and why planning for its inclusion should be considered from the outset if the benefits are to be fully realised.
Apex has supplied systems to over 50 PFI and ProCure21 schemes totalling over two million sq metres. By using the company’s systems, a complete electrical installation can be achieved quickly and safely by plugging the system components together.
Projects include the world’s foremost teaching hospitals the Royal London Hospital and Bartholomew’s Hospital (Barts) where new systems will cut electrical installation times, reduce onsite waste and provide a prewired factory tested p
ower and lighting system. Systems are designed to customer specification using the latest PC software before being manufactured offsite in a quality controlled environment using the latest high performance components and sub-assembly techniques.
Modular wiring systems can also provide improved health and safety because they minimise the amount of time contractors are required to work at height while also reducing the need for onsite cable and conduit cutting tools which can cause accidents.