The devil’s in the detail
It can be very tempting to think of so-called commodity items as being all the same but in fact they can vary a great deal. Ian Peacock, Technical Manager of Lewden Electrical discusses the sort of criteria that can make a big difference to the electrical installer
Every electrical wholesaler will be aware that there are many commodity items that are used on an almost everyday basis by their contractor customers. Undoubtedly all of those customers will expect good value and many of them will appreciate the difference between value and cheap. So it pays to look in more detail at each of these items when advising contractors which products will give them best value.
Industrial plugs, sockets and connectors provide a good example of this, for two good reasons. Firstly, these items need to be suitable for use in a wide range of environments with IP ratings from IP44 through to IP67. From the installer’s point of view, therefore, it’s important to be able to source all of these requirements from the same product range.
In addition, installation time can make a major difference to the overall profitability of the project, and industrial plugs, sockets and connectors vary greatly in this respect. For instance, simply being able to insert the cable in the grip, tighten a couple of terminal screws, close the grip and hold the cable fast by turning a ring nut can reduce wiring time to less than 20 seconds.
In my view, the wholesalers that are aware of such differentiating factors and can lead their customers to the best choice are those that add value to the basic role of selling products.
To illustrate this point further, it’s interesting to look at enclosures – items that many consider to be simply boxes. However, not all boxes are the same and choosing the right box can make a big difference to both the installer and the end customer.
For example, there are major benefits to being able to use the same box, or enclosure, for a wide range of applications, as it enables the contractor to buy higher volumes. It also means that the fixing methods become more familiar so that installation may be quicker.
To achieve this, a versatile, multi-purpose enclosure needs to satisfy a wide range of criteria, so it is equally at home in just about any environment; from a hotel lobby to a car park or chemical plant. These criteria include IP66 ingress protection, a high (850°C) fire rating, UV proofing so it doesn’t fade in external locations and good durability to withstand day-to-day knocks and bumps.
Here, the clear choice is an enclosure manufactured from thermosetting plastics that will address all of these criteria – with the added advantage they don’t suffer from corrosion or require regular painting, as would be the case with a steel enclosure. From an installer’s point of view, plastic enclosures are also lighter and easier to install, without compromising on quality or durability. And, of course, being lighter, they are also easier for the wholesaler to handle.
In these cases, it’s important that the plastic used will not burn or give off fumes at high temperatures or, in the case of a short circuit, allow flames to be propagated outside the enclosure. From a security point of view, the access door should also be protected by high quality locks, while a non-ageing elastomer gasket will ensure that ingress protection is maintained through the life of the enclosure.
There are also many situations where a consistent appearance for a range of uses is an important consideration. In an underground car park, for instance, there may be some enclosures used for access control electrics, some for lighting and others simply for storage. The overall effect is more pleasing to the eye if the enclosures share a common design.
Where the enclosure is used to contain electrical equipment, ease of installation is clearly a key consideration. The ability to simply click components onto rails and secure them with a quarter turn of a screw can save a lot of fiddly work. A well designed enclosure may also enable fewer enclosures to be used in the overall project, perhaps by allowing MCBs on one row and power distribution equipment underneath.
Similarly, a choice of mounting options will assist installation in a wide range of projects, whether the enclosure is to be wall mounted, attached to a pole or suspended on framework. For all of these reasons, there are clear advantages to stocking an enclosure range that meets all of these criteria.
So, whether it’s connectors, enclosures or a host of other products that electricians use on a daily basis, it is the apparently minor details that can make all the difference. So there is clearly an imperative for a manufacturer to educate customers (wholesalers, contractors and end users) so that they can appreciate the differences and provide the appropriate guidance.