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Flexible Power

04 January 2011

Does today’s electrical infrastructure have the capability to deal with flexible workplaces, and is it future-proofed to cope with developing business, technological and environmental demands? Steve Marr explains

THE COMMERCIAL PROPERTY market in the UK is awash with vacant offices and, as a result, something interesting has happened. The ability to offer flexible office space has become increasingly important in attracting new tenants - the reason being that simply offering a set floorplan that dictates the use of the space is no longer viewed as sufficient.
Today's businesses want space they can then use in their own way and, if needed, turn around, re-plan and re-structure.Additionally, a growing number of businesses operate on short term leases and so need to be able to adapt new premises to their own specific requirements quickly, easily and costeffectively.
Historically this was virtually impossible. Office space would have had a central spine of flush floor trunking and maybe a perimeter system, and if you wanted to increase capacity the only real option was to chase out more floor and install more trunking runs. This resulted in the use of busbar solutions with their to their plug and play capability, covering all products, including rising mains, distribution boards, underfloor power, desk modules and light power and control systems.
With direct connection to the switchboard, rising mains busbars are very much the spine of the modern electrical infrastructure. They carry power to different floors and areas of a building and, unlike traditional cabling, can be accessed at any point, meaning their use results in a flexible and future proofed installation that can cater for any additions or change throughout a building’s life.
Today’s rising mains busbars are designed with the intention of being suitable for any commercial installation with a capacity of up to 6,300 Amp, with the choice of either aluminium or copper conductors. In addition, many systems are also available with 5 conductor or 200 per cent neutral versions. In most cases these busbars have a quick fit mechanism that, despite their considerable size, makes them comparably quick and easy to install once manoeuvred into place. Tap-off boxes can also be delivered to site pre-wired and can accommodate the supply and protection of a wide selection of loads, including fuses, MCBs and MCCBs Breaking down the power supply into smaller circuits and providing the necessary circuit protection for each, distribution boards have also become more flexible in recent years. Panel boards, Type B and Type A distribution boards, MCCBs and modular DIN rail devices have all been enhanced in order to deliver more flexible solutions. And today, rather than being restricted to triple pole and fixed neutral, these products enable installers to mix multi-pole devices on the same busbar.
Underfloor power distribution systems have largely overtaken traditional perimeter trunking and cables as the favoured means of power distribution. The first of these power track systems was introduced by Electrak, which is now part of Legrand’s power distribution division, back in the 1980s, and today they are very much the norm. They provide a high level of flexibility and do so with a compact 63 Amp busbar as opposed to the mass of complex wiring required by more traditional systems.
With a dimensional height that allows them to be installed in the shallowest of floor voids, and tap-off outlets generally available every 300mm along the power track lengths, a correctly designed layout can provide total coverage of any given floor area.
A building equipped with power track accommodates growth, allows for changing requirements and the introduction of new technologies with ease. Workstations and other office equipment can simply be plugged in anywhere on the system, and when change is needed it is easy to move equipment without delay or expensive and disruptive re-cabling. This kind of flexibility not only delivers major cost savings, but equates to an unprecedented level of freedom when it comes to office laying out.
Delivering power to the people are the wide range of power outlets that cover everything from floor boxes and grommets through to under desk and desktop power modules.
Such is the level of flexibility incorporated into the modern electrical infrastructure, even desk modules, such as Legrand’s Intersoc and Rotasoc systems, are now offered in a busbar based modular form so that different functions can be added, or removed as and when required. This modularity allows systems to be expanded easily and safely when additional power is required, with add on modules simply being pushed and locked into place. This functionality is currently proving extremely valuable as the introduction of add-on RCD modules enables a quick and cost effective way of delivering compliance with the 17th Edition Wiring Regulations – something that previously could only have been achieved by replacing the whole desk module.
This flexible approach to the underfloor element of the electrical infrastructure has been taken even further in the ceiling, with lighting control systems now available that offer the same plug and play benefits, but with the added advantage of carrying both power and communications. Solutions such as Legrand’s Buscom system incorporate a shielded twisted pair providing a communications bus inside each busbar trunking length. By installing parallel runs in ceiling voids, universal access to a power and communications matrix is achieved. Enhanced tap-offs then plug into regular outlets and pick up the power and control signal together.
When used with its Lightrak control system, there is the added advantage that our lighting control modules mount directly onto the buscom trunking and plug straight in, saving even more installation time.
This kind of system delivers an array of lighting scenario and energy saving settings. For example, the system can be programmed so that overhead lights dim automatically when a presentation screen is switched on in a boardroom; lights closest to windows can be linked to sensors that provide maintained luminance instructing luminaires to dim according to external brightness; and one switch can be programmed to control all lights in an entire building so that they can be switched off when the building is closed down for the night.
The benefits don’t stop at the original installation, for future changes a computer can be connected anywhere on the control network and the fully addressable system reprogrammed without even disturbing a single ceiling tile. If extra control modules are required they can be simply mounted onto the Buscom trunking and connected directly into the system.
What’s more, the system saves time and money, reduces snags, facilitates any future office changes, and is designed for interoperability – this is based around the widely used KNX protocol and as such can be integrated with a vast number of other KNX systems and devices that are offered by many major electrical companies around the world.
It is hard to believe that despite the veritable explosion of technology over the last two decades there are still commercial properties being offered that have the kind of electrical infrastructure in place that would have supported a non-computerised business back in the 1980s. People today wouldn’t opt for a 1980s style television set or mobile phone, so why would they want a property with a similarly dated electrical infrastructure? The initial cost of such a system is higher than a traditional one containing runs of trunking and cables, but the lifetime cost is far lower – especially when you consider the fact that the advent of new technology, and new technological capabilities, are likely to increase the regularity with which electrical systems need to be updated and adapted.

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