Panel building - Panel builders must look to the future

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With technologies constantly changing, panel builders will find themselves faced with new challenges. Over the next few years, those working in the panel building industry will need to change their knowledge base to account for greater integration of controls and measurement, utilisation of compact solutions and demand for environmentally-friendly measures.  Andrew Garfield from Schneider Electric discusses the solutions for the future

Despite the recession, manufacturers are still continuing to introduce new technologies to the market.  Coupled with this, the evolution and introduction of legislation is shaping businesses’ views of the future and the demands they place on suppliers including panel builders.

There is certainly a shift to more organisations thinking about what processes and systems they implement now and their longevity of usage, with a goal of achieving value for money. But this doesn’t always mean the lowest initial capital outlay as more organisations are switching onto other factors that determine the value for money criteria.

For panel builder this means looking at integrating monitoring and control capabilities into the panels, focusing on reducing the size of the panels through the utilisation of compact solutions, environmental considerations and then the ongoing maintenance and safety.
Measurement and monitoring is instrumental in a business’ energy management programme.

Without undertaking this activity, it is not possible for a company to make an informed decision about the level of investment needed to make improvements to lower their energy consumption and carbon emissions.

By measuring energy usage through metering, energy audits and simple bill analysis, it is possible to monitor the consumption of installations, areas and different systems, such as heating and lighting, to identify where savings can be made.

In addition, Part L2a of the Building Regulations demands new builds, major refurbishments and any other commercial premises to account for the usage of 90% of each fuel type, meaning metering should be fitted. Today there is an array of measuring technologies available to help organisations keep track of their energy consumption, which can be easily installed into panels to monitor specific processes and systems. For example, Schneider Electric’s range of air circuit breakers and moulded case circuit breakers can include measurement capabilities.

Business then need to collect, analyse and monitor energy consumption remotely so the next layer is to recommend a communications tool. Software that operates as a gateway-server enables the company to view data from measurement and monitoring devices online via a web browser. Data is displayed in real time and trends can be plotted while storing historical information from multiple locations.

With less money being spent on projects, any measure which a panel builder can introduce to help keep costs down is always going to be a great benefit for the business. Plug and play solutions presents such a possibility. As devices such as circuit breakers and associated or onboard meters require less wiring, they are more time efficient and cost effective to install.

Coupled with plug and play is the need to also think modular. Today businesses are very keen to reduce the amount of space panel boards and switch boards use.  After all, these devices do not make money for a company and use up valuable space. So panel builders who offer flexible and compact solutions are more likely to be providing solutions that appeal to their customers.

With a modular and compact solution there is the potential to be able to extend the panel in the future, adding in extra capabilities should the building expand or if more electrical circuits are installed. While there needs to be some spare capacity factored into the panel from the beginning, it is always advisable not to add too much otherwise there is a risk that the installation is inefficient, so being able to add capacity at a later date is a much better option.  
Schneider Electric’s Okken and Prisma panel boards are not welded and their modularity offers customers flexibility, while aiding the future proofing of the installation. Schneider Electric also realises some situations still demand a permanent partition between live parts, which is why Okken switchboards can be configured for use in these types of installations such as data centres and hospitals.

In addition, with compact solutions come environmental benefits as they use less material and less natural resources, providing a smaller carbon footprint and helping businesses to meet their green credentials.

Panel builders also need to think about the actual maintenance and safety of the panels now and in the future. Ease of maintenance needs to be a key factor within health and safety studies so panel builders need to ensure that it is efficient to maintain any electrical equipment. This also helps to reduce downtime for the business.

The development of more innovative technologies means there is likely to be a change in the skill set of panel builders and the way they approach a project will be called into question. They will have to maintain and increase their knowledge base to keep abreast with the latest legislation and the key drivers that influence their customers, taking on responsibility for project engineering, programme engineering and leading to a more solutions-led approach. This will in turn lead to a greater potential role the switchboard manufacturer can play.