How electrical specifiers can balance independence with external expertise
Electrical engineers ensure electrical installations are safe. Their expertise guarantees a smooth run of operations and proper function of electrical systems. Stewart Gregory, VP Power Products at Schneider Electric UK&I discusses.
However, different installations require different levels of attention and detail. For example, low voltage switchboards can be installed following regulations easily found on websites, like IEC 61439-1&2. On the other hand, bigger systems like wiring in a building, are much more complex and require compliance with installation and calculation standards.
Indeed, the priorities for any specification project are two-fold – efficiency, and safety. For both, the latest digital tools can unlock significant amounts of untapped potential and give professionals a competitive edge. However, it is near impossible for specifiers to keep up to date with the newest innovations on their own. That is why it is vital to find the balance between being independent and knowing when to call on external experts.
Intricate solutions for intricate calculations
Electrical installations require complex calculations, taking into consideration data like voltage, current electrical requirements, as well as length of the run and environmental conditions need to be taken into consideration, with calculations being compliant with IEC standards.
Professionals must also analyse circuit breakers - if coordination and discrimination between circuit breakers are not properly calculated and installed, the entire electrical network could go down with a minor incident, like tripping one branch circuit breaker that would then trip the main one. To navigate these installations, many busy electrical designers consult third party specialists for support, to ensure accuracy and be more time efficient.
Weak points for design firms identified by specifier survey
A recent survey conducted by Schneider Electric aimed to determine what the ideal balance between independence and this kind of third-party support looks like for electrical consultancy firms. Unsurprisingly, one of the key aspects was time sensitive issues. When a professional is out in the field, the goal is to try and resolve a problem as promptly as possible to minimise the time of the disruption. If the installation requires electricians to consult with experts, the outcome might not be as fast as it needs to – the website might be confusing and overloaded with information, making it a time-consuming process to scroll through all the products and solutions.
Another common issue that called for outside support was the complexity of some products. The survey found that “The issue is sometimes that contractors' hand over entire catalogs and it's impossible to find out exactly which products they have included.” Electrical products are complex in nature, especially when you consider larger and more complex systems like building wiring. Consulting with specialists can help narrow down the options to better suited ones, avoiding the risk of incorrect products being used that could potentially endanger the entire electrical system or risk its efficiency in the long run.
Across the board, small specifier firms value fast, face-to-face expert support “It’s key to have someone to call. They know about products that may not be on the website or at least can help us find them.” The online world is a huge benefit for specifiers day-to-day but trailing through a website for hours is undoubtedly inefficient use of precious time when speaking directly to someone who understands the products can take just minutes.
A balancing act
When specifying a project, it is important for professionals to understand the stages where external expertise must be relied on, to save time for the stages where more independent work is required. According to Schneider Electric’s small specifier survey, third party support is most valuable when looking for specific product information in large catalogues and libraries, translating design into detailed specifications and determining the overall price of the project, and staying up to date with industry norms and trends.
In balance to this, it is important for electrical specifiers to determine where their strong points lie. Identifying what the market needs and potential opportunities for new business, documenting key design elements, discussing innovating solutions and technical applications with suppliers, and specifying lists of vendors and products to be included in the design seem strong elements within the process. Electrical designers are also strong with supporting and assisting the entire project phase, as well as attending webinars and training. This last element is particularly relevant as it shows a desire to continue growing and learning to keep up to date with the industry’s latest insights and trends.
No electrical specifier knows it all – nor should they. They should know, however, where to get the answers they need, to work in the most efficient, safe, and effective way possible.