Building a sustainable future
Sustainability is not just a smart marketing angle these days, it’s a political imperative. As pressure to take positive steps to combat global warming increases, legislation compelling the construction industry to design sustainability into new buildings will become increasingly stringent.
For many, the need to focus on sustainability, whether for environmental or economic reasons, already sits at the heart of what they do. Architects are rising to the challenge, both in terms of design and of specification. But further down the developer/contractor chain, the sustainable principles a building started out with are often watered down. Only by ensuring that all contractors and all their suppliers work hard to reduce the resources they use and ensuring the end result is both durable and fit for purpose can a development truly begin the journey towards sustainability.
For much of the electrical installation industry, there’s still a long way to go. In this sector, sustainability means finding ways to futureproof installations so that materials are not wasted by large-scale refits every couple of years or so. It means also putting a significant emphasis on the use of durable, flexible products that make the best use of raw materials whilst offering longevity.
Steel wire tray can tick all of these boxes, offering excellent performance and durability whilst using a fraction of the steel needed to fabricate traditional perforated steel tray to create a much lighter product. The secret to achieving these apparent paradoxes is in the tray’s innovative design. The wire mesh structure of the tray means that it is 90% free air; hence it uses less steel and is much lighter. For example a 300mm wide wire tray weighs just 2.16 kg/m in contrast to the 4.72 kg/m of conventional steel perforated tray products, making our tray 55% lighter than traditional systems.
What’s more, because the product is less bulky than conventional steel tray, it is more cost and fuel efficient to transport and does not require as much storage space. The simplicity of installation adds to this, as the standard brackets and fixings cut down the number of parts required still further.
Despite its simple, lightweight design, steel wire tray is actually stronger than conventional tray too. In fact, the 140kg/m load capacity of the 300mm width steel wire tray typically performs 27% greater than conventional steel tray. This not only has advantages in terms of the quality and durability of the installation, it also adds to the product’s record on sustainability. Greater load capacity often means that fewer rows of tray are required because more cabling can be contained in a single run with fewer accessories. Steel wire tray’s durability also adds to the lifetime of the installation and ultimately the building, a key tenet of sustainability that is sometimes overlooked.
The reduction in the amount of raw materials used comes not just from the open structured design of the tray itself, but also from the ease with which contractors can install the product. Typically 35-40% quicker to install than traditional cable tray, steel tray is supplied in straight lengths and can be cut easily to any length with bolt cutters. This not only allows the team on site to quickly cut and shape the tray they need to suit the installation but also means they do not have to use electrical power to cut or weld the tray. Once they have cut the required length, they can bend the steel tray to fit tight angles and join pieces of tray together quickly and easily, minimising wastage and removing the need to order pre-manufactured components in advance for each bend.
On-site training also helps to cut down the potential for wastage by ensuring contractors make best use of the materials. Installers are shown how to cut and form the tray using bolt cutters and how to join lengths of tray. They learn how to fix brackets and are given information about loading capacities and spacings, according to the needs of the site.
On-site training was used very effectively to reduce wastage at Heathrow’s T5, where steel wire cable tray was used throughout the new terminal. We trained over 200 installers many of whom do not speak English as their first language, but, because the training incorporates demonstrations of the product to address the industry’s increasing dependence on migrant workers, even those who speak very little English were competent installers within less than an hour.
The simplicity of steel wire tray’s design is also a major factor in its ease of use, and, because it’s supplied in straight lengths that are simply cut, shaped and joined together on site, it also offers dramatic savings in the number of components needed. At T5, this led to a considerable reduction in the number of components required compared to the number that would have been needed for a conventional tray system for the same project.
Ease of maintenance is another of the key benefits that using steel wire tray has brought to the T5 project, particularly in the baggage handling systems where efficient 24/7 operation is critical. Maintenance is an important facet of sustainability because it is through regular, preventative maintenance that the lifecycle of a building and its components can be prolonged. With a steel wire system, inspecting cabling networks is much easier because the tray’s wire mesh design means that cables are clearly visible and can be accessed without opening up the cable management network. This not only means that inspections are easier but encourages the building management team to carry them out more frequently, thanks to the ease of the task.
And if there should be a problem, or the building’s cabling needs should change, the design of steel wire systems means that sorting out the problem, or updating the cabling networks is much simpler. With conventional tray a relatively small change in the cabling network could result in the cable management system being ripped out and started again from scratch but the flexibility of a steel wire system means that it is not necessary to do that. Changes can be made or new paths added relatively simply and integrated with the existing cable management system because it’s designed to be shaped to fit on site. What’s more, tray from the old layout can be re-used; installers simply need to cut it to the new required shape.
With the average building now changing occupier or even changing use every seven years, a product that can be re-used by reconfiguring the layout and adding new paths wherever they are needed offers the ultimate in sustainability. Going forward, what we need to do is ensure that the drive to find sustainable solutions doesn’t begin and end in the architect’s office but sits at the heart of product development across all construction-related sectors. We’re working with a whole host of companies across the construction and building services industries to help drive innovation and improve the understanding of how true sustainability can be achieved. By adopting a holistic approach together, we can really begin to integrate sustainable design, materials and technologies to build a more environmentally sound future for us all.