Work Smarter, Not Harder

From design to build and install, it can be a challenge to keep your project moving while managing man-hours, BOMs and of course, customer expectations. Electrical systems are often a particularly critical barrier for electrical contractors. For example, many power distribution assemblies can be so big that the walls of the building are built around them, or they need to be installed and energized in order to power a building before setting up other building systems. 

Eaton’s Shane Semple, product manager, and Mark Rumpel, product line manager, were selected to host educational sessions on the topic during this year’s conference. We recently sat down with both of the electrical experts to discuss how contractors can maximize the productivity of electrical system construction to enhance profitability across a wide range of commercial construction applications.

Why is Eaton addressing productivity during this year’s IEC Conference? Is there a significant opportunity here for contractors?

MARK RUMPEL:  I think there’s a tremendous opportunity for electrical contractors to boost productivity. McKinsey Global Institute estimates that construction spending accounts for 13 percent of the world’s GDP. Yet, the sector’s annual productivity growth has only increased one percent per year over the past 20 years. Two decades ago, people were worrying about Y2K, the first iPhone was seven years out, and “Industry 4.0” wasn’t a thing. 

Clearly, there have been dramatic advancements of technology over the last two decades and the construction market has an opportunity to take advantage. Unsurprisingly, research also shows that contractors are hurt by this productivity gap through lost work, lower profits, longer installation time and increased project risk.

Eaton focuses on closing the productivity gap through education, intelligent systems and prefabricated solutions at IEC. And I think electrical contractors can stand to realize powerful benefits from working with manufacturers to address productivity today.

From what you’ve seen, what pressures are driving the importance of productivity for electrical contractors? 

SHANE SEMPLE:  Experienced professionals are critical to building and maintaining our electrical infrastructure. But the industry is dealing with a shortage of qualified professionals. The skills gap is significant. In fact, there are so many people retiring on the horizon that the next generation of workers projected to replace them won’t be enough. In addition, many skilled laborers left the industry during the recession in 2008 and have not returned. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce found that 40% of contractors are rejecting new projects because of the lack of skilled labor available. The current labor challenges look like they are going to stick. For example, non-residential building construction jobs are expected to increase 11.5 percent by 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

How can manufacturers improve productivity for the electrical side of construction projects?

MARK RUMPEL:  Electrical systems are often a critical part of large construction projects. Power distribution assemblies can be so big that the walls of the building are built around them, or they need to be installed and energized before setting up other building systems. Meeting project timelines and budgets hinge on fast, efficient delivery and installation of these systems.  Manufacturers like Eaton can directly impact jobsite productivity by offering prefabricated or factory pre-built, tested and pre-configured solutions that can significantly speed up installation of the electrical system. When expedited delivery is critical, Eaton’s 16 regional manufacturing satellites located across the country can help further compress project timelines with rapid support and local delivery. In addition, manufacturers can also help contractors boost productivity through:

  • Investments in education programs to increase the number of skilled, certified professionals available
  • Digital innovations that can help contractors and owners efficiently interface with the electrical system during installation and maintenance

What role does education and training have in addressing the productivity gap?

MARK RUMPEL:  Education is pivotal for addressing the current skills and productivity gap. Eaton has a long-term commitment to industry education programs and we’re investing in education, hands-on training and industry partnerships to prepare current and new professionals for long-term success in the industry. 

For example, Eaton Experience Centers provide real world, hands-on curriculums that new workforce entrants and experienced electrical professionals need to grow their skills. 

Next summer we’re hosting the 2020 IEC National Instructor Conference at our Pittsburgh Experience Center, July 23 to 25, 2020. Attendees will see electrical power management technologies at work, take advantage of hands-on training and explore the new functionality of digital solutions.

What are the benefits of pre-built or prefabricated technology? How can these solutions help improve productivity and profitability on the jobsite? Can you provide any examples?

SHANE SEMPLE:  With the current shortage of skilled labor, pre-built products simplify installation and help close the capability gap. Electrical contractors can increase productivity 
by 30 percent or more by utilizing prefabricated products to minimize material handling on the jobsite and reduce install time. Further, prefabricated solutions can help contractors utilize personnel with less experience to install in-wall rough-in product, enhance safety on the jobsite and reduce construction waste.

For example, we’re seeing contractors using pre-engineered and pre-assembled products to simplify branch wiring installation on commercial construction projects. This kitted material is made available for the appropriate work areas and significantly reduces on-site material handling time. With easy-
to-follow instructions for the branch rough-in assembly and layout, personnel who are new to the industry are empowered to be productive quickly.

Recently, at the Omni Louisville Hotel & Residency, Eaton’s pre-assembled branch wiring solutions helped save a tremendous number of labor hours. The facility included roughly 21,000 outlets in the hotel’s 838 guest rooms and apartments. Engineered drawings and boxes were unit specific: each outlet and cable was identified with dimensions, mounting heights, etc. With the prefabricated solution, the electrical contractor could rough-in one floor (about 55 hotel units) per week – saving approximately 40 percent for labor needed – with confidence in accuracy and the ability to ensure materials delivered to the right place at the right time. 

MARK RUMPEL:  We’ve also seen pre-built and factory tested electrical distribution assemblies deliver substantial installation savings, impacting productivity and the bottom line. Let’s take a look at an example: A Virginia-based grocery chain with 100+ stores, Food City was looking to expand its storefronts. It wanted to deploy customized (and compact) electrical systems that could be standardized to meet specific site requirements – supporting a cost-effective and rapid construction schedule. 

Eaton helped the grocery chain create a standard electrical distribution system with a factory pre-built package that included: switchboards, dry-type transformers, automatic transfer switches, building controls circuit breakers and the UPS for centralized power protection. What was the result? Eaton delivered the pre-built solutions pre-wired and tested, helping maintain an aggressive construction schedule, while helping the customer eliminate the need for 25 UPSs at each location to save on equipment costs and make ongoing maintenance easier. This project was such a success that the grocery chain is using the same model for electrical distribution across many newer projects, including new retail sites, its corporate headquarters and its regional data center. 

We’ve also seen the growing adoption of IoT and digital solutions. How can contractors leverage these connected devices to help improve productivity? Can 
you provide any examples? 

SHANE SEMPLE:  Manufacturers are offering new platforms that can help you impact productivity through digitalization that allows for remote device configuration and commissioning. What does this mean? Contractors no longer need to wait for a specialist to arrive onsite to configure electrical devices, and with data and settings stored in the cloud, you don’t need to find “that guy” when you need to troubleshoot, adjust etc. eCommerce solutions are also being incorporated into the construction industry to improve order accuracy and delivery times.

MARK RUMPEL:  Applying digital technologies yields powerful advantages:

  • Reducing time needed for install, commissioning, maintenanceand troubleshooting
  • Putting equipment to work in new ways, which cuts the number of components needed
  • Dramatic improvements in equipment procurement and system design

We’re also seeing the benefits of embedded transformative IoT technology directly into foundational electrical components. Molded case circuit breakers, like our new Power Defense Molded Case breaker family, provide vital functionality in nearly every low-voltage application around the world, protecting connected devices from overloads and short circuits. 

Now, in facilities that require hundreds of these devices, real-time data from the intelligent circuit breakers can be tracked and analyzed to prompt condition-based maintenance - an easier, faster and far more cost-effective way to maintain an electrical system than reacting in an emergency situation.

I think it’s helpful to compare traditional and intelligent circuit protection to see what digital innovations get you in terms of maintenance, restoring power, installing equipment and code compliance. Simply put, Eaton technologies help address each of these areas more quickly and easily: 

  • Through real-time intelligence, maintenance is predictive and specific (you know exactly where there’s an issue)
  • Knowing the source of the problem, you can restore power more quickly
  • With real-time data readily available, compliance with energy codes is easier and systems can be set up to run more efficiently
  • And new equipment installation is easier with capacity and electrical load information on hand

I think the most important thing to remember is that there is a vast opportunity for electrical contractors to boost productivity and we’re able to help, so that contractors get the most of their valuable resources.