Many essential tools of the electrical trade—pliers, hand drills, cutters, etc.—haven’t changed in decades. Today they are competing with high-tech solutions and devices for a place in the electrician’s toolbox. How much difference do smart tools make for everyday projects? Depending on what is coming in the future, and how valuable they are, these tools may help contractors stay nimble and competitive—for securing new contracts and retaining the latest generation of electricians.
Some of the most common innovations making an impact are software, robotics and automation, which can do repetitive tasks currently performed by human workers. Drones, for example, have quickly penetrated the construction market. They take photos and videos of the work site to provide a project overview, even when a supervisor is off-site. Drones also provide a quick look at otherwise hard-to-reach areas.
Wearable technology such as smart watches help electricians and supervisors track activities and identify safety concerns. A variety of wearable exoskeletons, some emerging form the world of prosthetics, offer better safety and productivity for workers when worn on arms and torsos.
It could be a dizzying set of options for any company wanting to offer the best and newest technology, so taking a step back and a measured approach can be the best way to proceed.
Taking it to the cloud
Access to data stored in the cloud has had a two-pronged effect on electrical contractors by changing the way work is done and how buildings are wired. Smart meters are one part of the connected building trend, because they track energy use for utilities, building owners and tenants. Electric utilities are already managing remote grid information on a wide scale, and electrical contractors are often doing the installation. Such metering systems collect data and enable upgrades to happen seamlessly. For the utilities, that means reduced capital expenditure costs and reinforced cybersecurity, said Ruth Gratzke, president of Atlanta-based Siemens Smart Infrastructure in the United States.
The cloud also affects what systems are being installed in buildings as more communication takes place virtually, Gratzke said, with building health accessible remotely through automated building technology. Employees can monitor and control facility systems remotely, which helps reduce travel, improves employee efficiency and increases job-site safety. More applications will be integrated into building management systems in the coming years.
Electrical contractors with knowledge of cloud-based platform data management, as well as the meters and sensors that feed data to those platforms, are poised to serve this market.
The cloud also aids contractors seeking to access data about conditions on their own work site, using virtual reality (VR), which creates 3D modeling of a project as it evolves.
Whether such cloud-based technology is being installed or adopted for the construction process, it is necessary to build workers’ comfort level when using it, Gratzke said. To help contractors adjust, many companies offer early training and workshops.
Siemens, for example, provides support for contractors and workers learning the ropes around VR. Gratzke said that “with more digital natives entering the trades, we designed a training platform centered around VR technology.”
The challenge is that many training programs, materials and hands-on instruction are time-consuming and expensive. Subject matter experts and instructors must travel to multiple locations, and there is little way to ensure consistency in what information is being shared.