Mark Redfern, managing director at Wieland Electric, looks at the role modular wiring plays in creating truly intelligent buildings and how it offers flexibility for the future in commercial buildings.
In an increasingly connected world, the term intelligent building has become part of the common vernacular but, to leverage the future-focused capabilities of an intelligent building, strategic planning is vital. Numerous options are available in terms of building and system design, and in order to meet the need for a flexible, cost effective and reliable power infrastructure, there has been a significant increase in the use of modular wiring systems.
The concept behind modular wiring is simple – from a pre-approved design, a manufacturer produces and tests a system in a quality-controlled environment, providing a complete installation from the respective distribution board, to the furthest point of a circuit. This process is highly efficient and can reduce installation times by up to 75%.
Virtually any intelligent building, regardless of size and complexity, can utilise this technology, with components delivered to site and simply connected together in a complete ‘plug and play’ installation that can be used for a wide range of building services – from lighting and security to heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC). It vastly reduces, and in many cases eliminates, the need for on-site electrical connections and cuts the number of qualified electricians required to carry out installation work. Furthermore, installation schedules can be completed with greater predictability and by reducing work on-site, there is far less risk posed by improperly configured assemblies.
During the second-fix stage, for example, the rapid speed of connection is impressive, and this gives project managers the flexibility to free up personnel more quickly to tackle other work. Additional time savings can also be achieved by making use of innovative product developments, such as a flat cable connection system that combines a busbar and cable into one product. These use a safe tap-off adaptor with a piercing contact that eliminates the cutting and stripping of cable. Leading manufacturers will also be able to provide support at all stages of the project, ensuring that installations are standards compliant, for guaranteed performance and reliability.
Creating an intelligent building involves more than just connecting the various facilities systems and building services. There is growing recognition that buildings that can continually adapt to how they are being used are more efficient and can save energy, while increasing occupant comfort and productivity.
Modular wiring installations are simple to reconfigure and allow for future design changes. Structured wiring systems do away with on-site cutting and fabrication, eliminating wastage and improving health and safety. There is also less packaging and what there is can often be re-usable, so the cost of waste removal from a site will be avoided. Exact quantity ordering also means that materials are not over-supplied and waste is therefore reduced, while components can even be packed and labelled on a room, zone, floor or even building basis.
A building that has a modular wired infrastructure can facilitate changes of use so that lighting, HVAC and other building services can be quickly reconfigured to maintain the desired comfort conditions and avoid extensive re-wiring work. Having a traditionally wired system in place can make such changes very complex and time consuming, and can prohibit the ability of intelligent buildings to evolve over time to best suit occupant needs. Conversely, a modular wiring system reduces disruption and overall cost when it comes to optimising space.
Safety is also a key benefit of modular wiring and systems must meet the requirements of BS 8488, which identifies the need for system design, installation and verification for conformity with BS 7671, and guarantees that manufacturers supply solutions that meet a defined standard.
When it came into force in 2013 the Construction Products Regulation (CPR) laid down harmonised rules for the marketing of construction products in the European Union (EU). Most cables within Europe that are designed for permanent installation within commercial buildings have been subject to the CPR and covered by BS EN 50575 since 2017. For modular wiring systems this means that, while the assembly itself cannot be tested to CPR standards, flexible cables used in the construction of the system should be compliant with the standard.
Future new technologies, products and systems in the building industry will create new opportunities to help the environment, end-users, and make significant cost savings. Modular wiring technology delivers tangible, commercial and operational benefits, provides occupants with a more effective working environment, and offers the potential to develop a building into a truly intelligent facility.
Furthermore, these benefits increase as new manifestations of the modular wiring concept come to the market. In order to take full advantage, system design must be flexible and agile, and ready to respond to new applications and changing needs.