Consider Modular Wiring for Your Next Spec

A chronic sore spot for many consulting engineers is the whole notion of value engineering. This piece does not dwell on that subject, but addresses a possible solution that may help some designers actually get the systems and equipment they specified installed in the finished project. This would-be solution is modular wiring.

03/01/2003


A chronic sore spot for many consulting engineers is the whole notion of value engineering. This piece does not dwell on that subject, but addresses a possible solution that may help some designers actually get the systems and equipment they specified installed in the finished project. This would-be solution is modular wiring.

In so many words, we're talking about prefabricated wiring than can be used for electrical, telecommunications and building automation applications. The manufacturers of these systems say the savings are significant. OK, how much? Anywhere from 25% to 40%, says Michael Ewald, director of Electro/Connect and International Business for Tupelo, Miss.-based Day-Brite Lighting.

"When a contractor initially bids an electrical project, he is bidding a pipe-and-wire job using standard wiring. This means most of the electrical system will be built on the project site with basic electrical components and costly skilled labor," Ewald says.

Cost savings

The savings come, he claims, from the increased speed of installation. All parts—gleaned from a complete factory-detailed wiring system, down to the outlets and switches, as culled from the original electrical layout of a building's drawings—are standardized and laid out for maximum material use, efficiency and minimal waste.

Once materials are delivered to the jobsite, Ewald claims installation consists of simply plugging pieces together. "Because the entire project is modularized, wiring components are delivered only as they are required for a specific portion of the building," Ewald argues. "Sending product as needed to the jobsite reduces sort time by electricians, loss of material and drives down handling costs."

Furthermore, because the product is modular, more apprentice labor can be used, substantially reducing the cost per hour. A side benefit is reduced jobsite theft of electrical components.

UL labeled systems

Ewald also hopes the quality-control measures of the system make it more appealing. He notes the system is UL listed, complying with National Electrical Code requirements. Ewald claims this translates into component consistency and that the systems come with a five-year warranty. "By contrast, a pipe-and-wire system is only as good as the workers installing the system and the local code inspector," Ewald says.

Again, addressing the notion of control, he argues that installation quality can vary greatly from one project to another depending on which electrical contractor is awarded the contract—something certainly not in the domain of the engineer.

Maintenance friendly

Moving on from the jobsite, Ewald also espouses that modular wiring is safer for maintenance staff to use. The systems are designed, he says, to simply unplug and plug back together again. "There is no guesswork or uncertainty about which wires go where," he says. "Most systems are keyed or indexed to prevent dissimilar voltages or uses from plugging together. Outlets and switches are replaced by plugging another switch or outlet into the system."

This, of course, means maintenance tasks can be accomplished by lower-skilled maintenance personnel—a phenomenon becoming more common in many facilities today.

Plan perfect

Finally, Ewald believes modular wiring should appeal to engineers as plans are usually more accurate than as-built drawings. Each piece has a designated place within the building. The accuracy of these plans, he argues, can be important for later additions and changes in the building. In putting their money where there mouth is, Ewald believes most modular wiring manufacturers will provide up to three sets of plans for their products as part of the purchase price for the system.



Advantages of Modular Wiring

Safe for maintenance staff

Overall project savings of 25-40%

More accurate plans than with "as-built" drawings

Increased installation speed



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