Low-Voltage Trends: Current and Future

Shutterstock / Zubada
Shutterstock / Zubada

In January, I asked “What has been taking place in low-voltage work?” This article addresses the question: And what is anticipated for the future, including future challenges?”

According to Joe Carey, RCDD, systems team leader for Zeller Electric, Goodfield, Ill., professional and personal mobile device use will continue to consume more bandwidth.

“We expect to see more traction in building automation and data acquisition devices within buildings, which will tie into mobile devices,” he said. “We anticipate even greater utilization of lighting controls for energy efficiency and convenience.”

“We are hearing more about data acquisition through devices in the ceiling,” Carey said. “That’s very interesting technology with mobile devices moving through those areas. Additionally, we are seeing low-voltage cabling used in controller applications on solar equipment, which we have seen incredible growth in our work in 2019.”

“I see continued levels of convergence— where all workplace technology will reside on the network,” said Michael McCaugherty, president of Commercial Technology Contractors, Clifton, N.J. “Disparate stand-alone systems will become a thing of the past.”

He believes that networks will become wireless and move to the “digital ceiling.” All systems, such as security, HVAC, BMS, AV and life safety will all be on a common network.

McCaugherty sees a huge demand for power over ethernet (PoE) lighting.

“While PoE lighting is nothing new, I feel that the control systems and open integrations will provide much more opportunity for low-voltage contractors than the fixtures and UTP wire that powers them,” he said.

According to Tasha Barker, general manager for Electric Innovations, the low-voltage arm of Thompson Electric, Sioux City, Iowa, technology is a driving force.

“More people are experiencing the benefits of technology to create market advantages for their businesses,” she said.

The ability to integrate multiple systems together is creating dynamic facilities that are safer, more cost-effective and allow for greater ease of management from anywhere you can connect to Wi-Fi.

For Electric Innovations, work in emergency responder radio communication solutions, DAS/BDA, and robotics are the newest and most exciting opportunities the company is seeing.

“Being able to solve real-world business problems for the client with a complete integrated solution is the area we are seeing the most growth in terms of business and profit,” said David Stallings, RCDD, digital strategy officer for Miller Electric, Jacksonville, Fla. “Our largest growth has been in large-scale data centers, security, audio visual and parking solutions.”

What Robbie Danko, marketing manager for Low Voltage Contractors, Minneapolis, is seeing is that, regardless of a building’s goal (smart, intelligent, connected, etc.), the core of each is a data-driven building.

“In the next year or so, technology that allows a building to aggregate and interpret data, accessible from anywhere, will gain traction,” she said. “These days, we are doing more with audio visual projects. The products available to us have remarkable functionality and beautiful design. They are made to become a functional, practical and aesthetic part of the space they serve.”

Mike Delfino, project manager, McClure Electric, San Francisco, anticipates that security, CCTV, wireless and asset tracking should see an uptick in the future. His company is focusing on security, CCTV and wireless.

What challenges can low-voltage contractors anticipate?

“One is to keep the quality of materials, installation and testing at a high enough level to meet the needs of the increased bandwidth of Category 6a cabling installations,” Carey said. “Many installers don’t have the test equipment, and some do not have the training to do it well enough to pass 10 gigabit speeds. An improperly installed 6a system is easy. However, done properly, this type of cabling infrastructure requires much greater care than did lower level systems.”

Another challenge is specifier education.

“Some firms are progressive and on track with these higher bandwidth and automation initiatives,” he said. “However, some are still publishing category 5e specifications for newer construction and remodels. Cabling installations are generally expected to have a lifespan of more than 10 years. Category 5e doesn’t meet that performance level for many applications today, let alone in the future.”

Danko said cybersecurity and network integrity will continue to be a challenge.

“Because of the nature of our work and our systems, if not properly installed and protected, have the potential to compromise entire networks,” she said. “Training and awareness, at all levels of our organization, are critical to protecting our company and our clients.”

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