Chapter Corner

Online Tools That Save Time and Money

Posted in: Features, August 2016

There are many specialized hand and power tools that electrical contractors (EC) use every day to help save time and money. Beyond these physical implements, however, there is a wealth of online tools available, which can be equally valuable.

Many manufacturers in the electrical industry, including Thomas & Betts (T&B), offer a range of online tools that can save you time, improve productivity, and increase your competitiveness.

Here are some examples:

CAD and BIM Models

Computer-aided design (CAD) has been around for quite some time; first in the aerospace industry, then the automotive industry, and now in all facets of design and manufacturing. It came into the construction industry several decades ago, but was reserved for large construction projects, mostly because of the high cost of the software, the need for powerful and expensive computer workstations to run it, and a steep learning curve to use the software. But times have changed.

Today, CAD and its extension, Building Information Modeling (BIM), are available to all, and the benefits they deliver are extremely valuable to ECs, large or small. CAD has become the industry standard for computer representation of structures. It is primarily used as a two-dimensional (2D) tool for construction plans. However, it does have the capability to render in three-dimensions (3D) to better show the relations between the multitude of components in a building.

BIM takes CAD into another realm, incorporating the complete life cycle of creating a building: design, construction, and facility management. The information stored in BIM can be used throughout the life of the building and includes the geometric shape of each component; the specifications used to select the product; and a wealth of details, like finish and configuration.

BIM is a shared knowledge base; its value becomes apparent when the building is finished and contractors, facility engineers, and building owners begin to retrieve its information for maintenance and repairs. For the independent EC, knowing how BIM works can save time and money as well as help the EC remain competitive in today’s rapidly changing market.

Here are some important benefits BIM delivers that can alter the way an EC works:

Avoiding Conflict

Every EC has experienced job site conflicts where some elements of the mechanical/electrical/plumbing (MEP) systems don’t integrate easily. With BIM, these problems can be addressed in the design stage, eliminating the time and frustration of trying to resolve it on the job. This also saves money and inevitably results in a better structure.

Job Site Efficiency

ECs who use BIM in the field find it invaluable for managing the job site and scheduling workflow. It can help them identify ways to improve construction schedules, track orders, and manage their supply chain.

Another way BIM can greatly improve job site efficiency is identifying opportunities for using prefabricated assemblies. Among the advantages of BIM are 3D drawings, which provide a complete view of the entire structure, including the exact number of bends and pull boxes, overhead runs, and penetrations into equipment and vaults.

By being able to envision a facility prior to its actual construction, an EC can enter important information before building begins and determine opportunities to prefabricate pieces off-site. Off-site fabrication, like the eFab program from T&B, is becoming increasingly common in construction and offers many advantages, including labor savings, waste reduction, just-in-time delivery to the exact job site location where the components are needed, more efficient use of precious job site space, and improved quality control.

Improved Communication

BIM models greatly improve the ability of the entire MEP team to grasp the scope of the project’s electrical equipment and services. Highly complex vertical and horizontal routing schemes can be difficult to explain to members of the team, not to mention architects and building owners.

BIM models provide everyone involved in the construction process with a single shared model to work from. This reduces the chance of miscommunication and ensures that everyone is using the same set of data and interpreting it clearly. Real-time changes can also be made accurately, further eliminating confusion or delays.

Enhancing Value

On any job, there are always times when a change should be recommended to the owner that will make the finished building better. For example, a small additional investment can result in a more reliable electrical distribution system, resulting in energy savings and improved lifecycle costs.

Most ECs know the pain of change orders and the hassle of responding to requests for information (RFI) during construction. BIM can prevent many instances of each. This means more value to the owner and greater efficiency for the EC.

Accurate Estimating

The beauty of BIM modeling is that the entire project is visible before it is even started, including raceway bends and pull box and fitting installations. The modeling provides the exact number of each component needed and the scope of the total job. This is invaluable information to compose an accurate estimate.

Another advantage of BIM modeling is that alternate designs and layouts can be easily compared and accurate assessments of each can be made before deciding on the final electrical system configuration.

Configurators and Product Selectors

Finding the right solution can be complicated. While CAD/BIM provides the ability to see the entire electrical system and the relationship between each component, sometimes the exact solution to a problem relies on only one part. Online configurators can help find the optimal solution, whether it’s pointing to a currently stocked item or a custom product.

Here are some examples of configurators:

Prefabricated Assemblies Configurator

By assembling component systems off-site, ECs have found that they can reduce costs and improve job site efficiency. Configurators that enable the design of prefabricated assemblies, like the T&B eFab™ configurator, facilitate a 3D configuration of the assembly needed or a selection of popular preassemblies that are already designed.

Lug Selector and Configurator

Off-the-shelf products are not always the optimal solution for termination issues that arise on the job and in the workshop. Difficult wire bending and terminations in confined power distribution panels, switchgear, or motor control enclosures can be especially challenging.

Online selectors and configurators, like the one on the T&B Blackburn site, display the full range of a manufacturer’s product line to find the exact match needed. If that doesn’t exist as a standard item, many configurators allow for the design of exactly what is needed, having it manufactured to spec and then delivered to the job site.

Mobile Apps

Most manufacturers now offer a wealth of product information accessible on a smartphone or iPad. (T&B offers two mobile apps for the iPad: T&B Mobile and LP Mobile.) These apps typically provide full access to the company’s product lines, applications and industry information, and insight. They can also provide distributor services, multimedia presentations, and electrical industry news and information.

T&B is committed to supporting ECs with a library of both CAD and BIM models, online configurators, and mobile apps for a range of devices. More information can be found at, then go to "Resources” and select the dropdown menu item “End User Tools.”

Time- and money-saving tools aren’t limited to the ones in the EC’s box. There are vast resources made available online by electrical industry manufacturers that can facilitate smoother project flow, easier completion, and greater profitability.

Nancy Lindsay is the construction market manager for Thomas & Betts, a member of the ABB Group. She has responsibility for the company’s Strategic Contractor Program as well as for their industry involvement with IEC, NECA, electrical training ALLIANCE, E2E, and ELECTRI International.