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Electrical contractors power ahead with modular wiring systems

One way in which electrical contractors can add value and boost margins during the tough economic conditions is to introduce customers to a broader range of technologies like modular wiring systems. Dave Lewis, managing director of UK market leader Apex Wiring Solutions, explains more about what’s on offer.

The UK’s approach to electrical installations had remained unchanged for decades, relying on traditional hard wired systems. However, the advent of modular wiring systems now offers a new approach and today most large scale capital projects involve modular solutions. 
The technology, using high quality manufacturing techniques and materials, is the latest in advanced, cost effective electrical installation solutions - a factory assembled and fully tested cabling system which replaces the traditional wiring of electrical sub circuits. And because the modular systems approach doesn’t require as many qualified electricians to install as hardwired ones, they provide improved performance while reducing cost bases at a time when many electrical contractors are struggling to make head way in a sector that’s seeing little if any real growth. 
In other words, contractors can significantly grow their business with the same number of employees delivering more and larger projects while having a lower cost base with the mix of skilled and semi-skilled teams. Management and preliminaries are also reduced and because the components are preassembled offsite, there are also significant savings to be had in waste and material costs.
So how do modular systems differ from conventional ones?  The main difference is that it avoids the need for any on site electrical connections. The modular system is designed and produced off-site in a quality controlled environment. It is then supplied pre-assembled and fully tested to site rather than the more traditional conduit, trunking and hard wired system. This eliminates the need for onsite electrical connections and cuts the number of qualified electricians required to carry out installation work, with associated advantages in installation time and health and safety.
Although modular wiring systems may require additional electrical specification to be considered at the initial project stages for maximum installation benefit, they offer a very high degree of flexibility and versatility for both the installer and end-user. They provide improved long term project performance because the risk element for the installer is reduced while installation times and the amount of on-site skilled electrical labour are cut. Cable snagging and site waste are also reduced while offering improvements in site safety. Also, because product is factory assembled in a highly controlled production environment, quality levels are assured.
A typical system might feature pre-wired factory tested pluggable distribution boards for supplying lighting and power over a large industrial site or multi-storey office complex. The use of prefabricated connectors and preassembled cables can provide a high performance, reliable and flexible wiring solution which offers significant improvements over alternative systems, reducing onsite installation times by up to 70%. And because the system can be designed early in the build programme with customer input - and all the elements sourced from a single supplier - further logistical, compatibility and cost benefits can be had too.
One of the great advantages of modular wiring is its simplicity and versatility, which means in practical terms virtually any installation regardless of size and complexity, can be converted to a modular system. This includes projects within the residential, retail, healthcare, commercial and education sectors.
The different elements of a modular system are factory assembled and tested before being delivered to site for installation. Hard wiring can be eliminated if necessary because a complete installation can be undertaken from the distribution board to the furthest point of a system simply by plugging the connectors together.
Although the modular approach may call for a different approach among main contractors and clients because more design and planning is required at the beginning of a project, one of the great advantages of the modular approach reveals itself during the second-fix stage where pre-assembled units ensure connection times are much faster than traditional hard wired - electricians simply plug together the different components to complete the system, saving time and money in the process. This leaves the contractors with more time get on with other site work.
Most modular electrical wiring systems work on a radial circuit as opposed to the ring main common to UK installations which again offer advantages. Fewer cable lengths are required and less copper is needed because the radial installation runs one way only while fault finding is easier because any break or interruption results in the immediate disconnection of the electrical supply to the whole circuit. This is not always apparent with a ring main installation while adopting a radial approach can offer a faster, more cost-effective way to work, removing the requirement to adhere to Regulation 433-02-4 in the 17th Edition of the Wiring Regulations.
Modular wiring systems are here to stay. The cost and time saving benefits they provide are becoming increasingly recognised, enabling electrical contractors to complete even the most complex installations quicker and more efficient than ever before. We will see modular wiring become more and more the norm with less input required by product suppliers as the contractor becomes increasingly familiar with the concept and systems.
Modular wiring systems can also provide improved health and safety because they minimise the amount of time contractors are required to work at height while also reducing the need for onsite cable and conduit cutting tools which can cause accidents. 

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