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A Prosperous 2018: The Year of the Next Big Thing

December 5, 2023

“The next big thing” is a familiar phrase for electrical contractors as they are introduced to new technology each year.

As Phil Santoro, U.S. contractor segment manager, Schneider Electric, in Franklin, Tenn., pointed out, there will be many opportunities in 2018 in segments such as smart home technology, internet of things, automation, audiovisual (AV) systems, energy conservation, lighting and more. The question is where ECs should focus their efforts.

According to James K. Stacy, director of product management for the U.S. Energy Business, Schneider Electric, knowing the equipment and its cost, impact on operational cost, and its safety and reliability is a good start.

“The push to have lower capital-­costing equipment and the need to provide increased reliability, safety and features driven by end-users are in many cases competing priorities,” he said. “Also, if one focuses too heavily on the initial CAPEX [capital expenditure] purchasing view, then one may miss the chance to innovate and bring major improvements to the industry truly. A more balanced view, which combines CAPEX with OPEX [operational expenditure], reliability and safety should be considered.”

It is important for today’s ECs to consider the capital and operating expenditures while staying attuned to the dynamics of the world economy.

“As the CEO of a company that helps finance the equipment that goes into commercial buildings, my perspective is a financial one,” said Vernon Tirey, CEO and co-founder of LeaseQ, Burlington, Mass., an equipment leasing and financing company. “I see a strong economy going into 2018 and the tenth straight year of growth in the U.S. commercial building industry. I also see low unemployment rates, so with demand high and qualified labor hard to find, it could be difficult for businesses to grow. To date, contractors have been vying to win larger bids, and labor costs have been steady, but I think labor costs will go up this year.”

Convenience and comfort

Another critical area to focus on is the emergence of technology pointed at the convenience and comfort of the consumer. There is an insatiable appetite by consumers everywhere for electronic solutions at their fingertips—especially in home automation.

Inspired Technology & Communications, a customized audiovisual and tech company in North Easton, Mass., is seeing an emergence of consumer products that promote convenience and comfort. Stephen Rothwell, CEO, urges contractors to keep things simple and user-friendly.

“Clients today want control of everything, and they want it at their fingertips,” he said. “From their phone or tablet, clients want to be able to control the television, adjust the lights, turn on the security system, view the home surveillance system, and they want it to be easy. All of these things are possible yet often require multiple apps, passwords and training on how to operate. With the help of AV integrators, these systems can be controlled by a single app and made much more user-friendly.”

Many aspects of electrical technology are moving toward network control. Contractors need to pull category cables—Cat 5, 6, 7—that were not used as much in the past.

As consumers adopt new ways to connect home products, especially connected devices that interact with the home’s energy systems, contractors and equipment makers increasingly need to worry about Wi-Fi connectivity, interactions with other connected devices, and the support issues around these devices, said Mike Phillips, CEO of Sense, which provides electrical panels for the home that interface with iOS and Android apps.

 “Cable boxes, light switches, security systems, and surveillance systems now require network for remote viewing and control,” Rothwell said. “Pulling the cable to the correct locations is the easy part. Learning about network activity, IP addressing, wireless access points, etc., is a requirement most electrical contractors have not had to deal with in the past but is quickly becoming a necessity.”

Chan Wang, the IEC technical manager at TUV Rheinland of North America, Columbus, Ohio, believes power over Ethernet (PoE) technologies are ripe for use and one to be familiar with. PoE is being introduced to the residential market, more so now, and has been adopted by the office and commercial market.

“These new and emerging methods to deliver low-voltage power over existing cabling will be a challenge for installers and contractors,” Wang said. “In addition, there are several new international standards for wiring and flammability that will take some getting used to.”

One should not overlook the high demand for skilled electricians. Santoro feels this is forcing ECs to look for ways to drive project efficiency.

“That may mean adjusting the staging of equipment, kitting, prefabrication, or investing in other solutions that drive efficiency on the job like dual-function circuit breakers, for example,” he said.

Santoro is sensitive to the pressures on electrical contractors trying to find efficiency to drive their profitability, which is always the challenge. In the end, knowing the changes in market demand while working a lean and tight business model—all in the name of value added. That is a pathway to a prosperous new year in 2018 for ECs.

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