Old dogs and new tricks 

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Opinion

In an increasingly digitised world, Stewart Gregory, VP of Power Products at Schneider Electric, warns why electrical contractors must mind the innovation gap.

We’re all aware of the hype surrounding connectivity and the Internet of Things (IoT). These innovative technologies are already having a profound effect on our daily lives and on many, if not all, sectors. The electrical industry is no exception. In recent years, there have been rapid developments in the field and the speed of change leaves some the industry finding it hard to keep up.

Now more than ever, electrical contractors must stay on top of the latest products, trends and techniques to be competitive in this constantly evolving industry. Yet, as the importance of software and connectivity continues to grow, the industry faces the real threat of a schism. The sector is slowly being split between those who recognise the opportunity and those who still need to be convinced. Waiting too long may make the gap to catch up too big.

An unprecedented number of installers and engineers will soon be retiring from the electrical industry. However, there is yet to be an influx of new blood to fill the void. Instead those in the profession, and those entering it, need training to prepare them for the rapidly digitising workplace.

End users are digitising, and electrical engineers need to digitise along with them. In the residential sphere, customers are demanding smart homes and corporate buildings, energy management systems. To match changing customer expectations, electrical contractors need to get trained on what these products are, the benefits and how to install them to avoid being left behind.

The future opportunity, within digitisation and innovation and adding value to what is a traditional industry are emerging fast, for example, energy management, predictive and preventive maintenance, service contracts, upgrades and reduced running costs for the client etc.

Improved efficiency

Working with the latest innovations brings about huge efficiency gains for the electrical contractor, meaning that they can remain more competitive for the customer. 

Working with boards with plug-in components such as Isobar P cuts wiring time in half for electrical contractors as well asleveraging connected technologies that allow users to instantly monitor the health and energy usage of their distribution boards, via simple connected software packages. This means savings on time in the installation, and with connectivity ongoing savings for customers, in energy, down time and overall efficiency –ultimately adding value. 

Additionally, digital advancements have brought changes to product configurators. If you’ve designed a system with different connected components, electrical contractors no longer need to spend time either speaking to a third party or looking up each product to ensure they are all compatible. 

Thanks for the digitalisation incorporated by Schneider Electric, compatibility can be quickly and simply checked all via a mobile phone utilising an app. Electrical contractors can simply download a simple app, connect to the board and check the compatibility of different components. The app will alert them to any issues and provide a full maintenance log and traceability.  

These are just two examples of the ways that digital technologies and innovation can increase efficiency for both electrical contractors and their customers. Those who fail to get trained on new digital products such as those mentioned above, will struggle to compete in a market that will start to demand more visibility and control as technologies converge.

Enhanced safety and maintenance

Digitisation and connectivity of the electrical system, also brings its benefits for the installed base, providing visibility of the system status, loading, alarms, location, at a device level, either locally or remotely via the app allowing for focused call out for emergency, preventive and predictive maintenance coupled with full traceability of the product. In addition, full analytics packages may be placed on top providing dynamic monitoring of the system and recommendation. Prolonging the life of the equipment and building a closer relationship with the end user

Increased functionality 

Being digital-smart means that you can install more valuable solutions for your customers. Electrical contractors can lead the way in educating the customer on the vast benefits associated with smart or digital devices in the electrical industry. 

An electrical contractor who only knows how to install simple wired-in solutions is far more limited in what they can offer to customers. An inert device that isn’t IoT connected can’t tell a customer anything until someone physically looks at the device. However, one that is constantly streaming data over the IoT can tell them lots of useful actionable information in real time – like energy consumption, equipment health and faults.

By offering smart Innovative solutions to customers, electrical contractors can transform businesses, saving them installation time, energy and money. 

For example, a recent study showed that for machine builders, embracing IoT could mean drastically reducing their time-to -market by up to 50% and reduce their maintenance costs, saving them time and money and helping them to remain competitive. 

Products like Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure help electrical contractors deliver on the expectation of IoT for their customers. EcoStruxure encompasses connected products that deliver operational data in real time, edge control to manage the process, optimising as needed as well as apps and analytics which provide the agility to allow users to make decisions faster. 

Upskilling to avoid being left behind

There is no doubt that digital transformation presents exciting opportunities for electrical contractors to reduce costs, save time, increase efficiency and safety. However, with these opportunities come challenges. 

As with many industries, the pace of technological advancements means swiftly changing customer expectations as well as necessitating new skills in the electrical industry. 

Contractors who are unaware of new technologies will miss or not recognise the opportunity. Being digitally trained and aware means that they are better equipped to compete in a commercial race, and have the ability to offer full end user solutions, with ongoing return.

It’s crucial that the next generation of young electrical professionals carve out a place for themselves in the value chain. Customers will no longer be just searching for someone to fit a distribution board, they are looking for electrical advisors able to recommend the best products for their needs and digital solutions that enable superior monitoring and maintenance. 

If you're feeling digitally daunted, then sign up to one of Schneider Electric’s various portals for contractors, electricians and specifiers. By signing up you have free access to training materials, tutorials and webinars – there are also resources to help train apprentices in how to work with and install many of Schneider Electric’s connected products and solutions. Don’t get left behind – get digital.