Earlier this year, the National Electrical Contractors Association forecasted that the U.S. should “expect to see gains and progress of varying degrees across all construction sectors …” From a global, long-term perspective, the future seems bright for some regions. PwC is predicting “the volume of construction output will grow by more than 70% to $15 trillion worldwide by 2025. The meteoric growth, which outpaces that of global GDP, will be concentrated in three countries: China, the US and India.”
As electrical contracting firms look forward to these potential opportunities, there will continue to be a focus on risk management and project cost optimization, continually striving for higher productivity and better results.
During the commissioning phase of an installation, there are still many challenges in achieving these goals. For example, different communication interfaces for different devices, and separate supporting software for different devices, makes testing and configuration more difficult. It’s also time consuming to prepare a detailed project report, and to provide documented proof of properly configured system-wide settings to gain final sign-off from the customer.
The smart way to speed commissioning
The good news is that new apps have emerged that are making commissioning and integration of smart devices and smart panels faster and more efficient. Running on the engineer’s laptop, these apps support a more streamlined, structured electrical commissioning approach. They simplify final configuration of settings, help ensure the system is working properly according to specification, and auto-generate documentation that supports the site acceptance test report.
After checking the installation of the panels, doing the cabling work to physically connect all switchboards and assemble busbars, the engineer will use the smart app to make a communications connection to a panel. The app will automatically discover the communicating devices. Some apps will provide a graphical network architecture view, showing groupings of devices. A test can be run to validate proper communications wiring, and a test report generated, usually with a single click. The app will enable faster testing irrespective of multiple communication interfaces.
The smart app will then enable easy setup of different settings for all devices in a panel or switchboard. If the panel builder used the same application during the initial build and configuration, and has shared that data with the contractor, those settings will conveniently appear in the app.
Apps typically support a wide spectrum of device types, from circuit breakers and meters to communication interfaces. Configuration of settings according to the final specification is quick and easy. Some apps allow for one-click download of settings to multiple devices. This, in addition to using a single app to configure multiple device types, helps reduce setup time.
Testing and reporting made simple
A simple device checkup can then be performed to ensure all measured values look reasonable, as well as checking any connected modules. Functionalities can then be verified to ensure devices are ready for operation. This can include basic functional checks for breakers and checking load levels. Some smart apps may also support firmware compatibility checks and firmware upgrading, to further ease commissioning.
At this point, the engineer can check the communication of the panels with the customer’s power management and/or building management application.
Following configuration, the smart app will auto-generate a comprehensive project report in support of the site acceptance test report. This will include documenting device settings and test results. For a medium-sized project with an array of different types of devices, the final report can typically be completed within a few hours. The project report will be stored securely in the cloud, making it simple to share with the facility or maintenance manager.
Once the panels are under operation, any configuration changes can be easily identified by comparing the original and current settings. This maintains a system consistency during the operation and maintenance phase.
The Ecoreach application from Schneider Electric is an example of a smart app that offers contractors simplified configuration and testing of smart panel components, as well as auto-generated reporting. With support for all families of Schneider Electric protection, metering, and communication products, Ecoreach can reduce commissioning time by up to 70%. To learn how similar smart tools are helping panel builders save time, check out my previous post.