In Morrow, Ga., Wendy’s restaurant chain has opened its first smart branch. It is loaded with slick new smart technology features that enable the restaurant to reduce its footprint while providing top-notch services to clientele. The square footage of this new facility is nearly half of past designs, with a 55-guest capacity. The smaller restaurant has a fireplace and open ceiling with up-lighting, flat-screen TVs, complimentary Wi-Fi, Coca-Cola Freestyle machines and digital menu boards. Guests can peek inside the open kitchen as food is prepared using high-speed ovens, fryers and double-sided grills—all planned to build efficiency and make fast food even faster.
Smart buildings are trending upward for commercial facilities of many types. According to the researcher Technavio, the global smart buildings market is set to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.67 percent from 2017–2021. This is an opportunity for electrical contractors, and there are many ways they may capitalize.
“What we generally see when brands use the term ‘smart,’ what they really mean is connected,” said Mitchell Klein, executive director of Z-Wave, Fremont, Calif. “The efforts around the internet of things—or IoT—to date have been focused around putting connectivity inside the machines and devices around us to provide a higher level of functionality and remote access along with collecting data.”
Connect and collaborate
Functionality and access enable connectivity and collaboration that may be put to work in numerous ways and afford many benefits in facility and building design.
Kendell Anderson of the Facilities Solutions Group in Round Rock, Texas, believes ECs should be aware that the installation of many smart products and integration means moving to smaller equipment, reduced installation time, and the usage of laptops and smart apps in the installation process itself.
“Being able to connect to technology in the field will prove to be the most important skill these contractors can have,” Anderson said. “Electricians will be able to self-serve in the field with technology available to help walk them through the installation step by step.”
Alison Zimpfer, systems engineer at Energy Management Collaborative, Plymouth, Minn., believes careful installation relies on swift collaboration with other teams involved in smart building outfitting.
“You don’t want any communication gaps between your electrical, mechanical and A/V systems,” she said. “Depending on how the project came together, you may need to enlist the help of your general contractor to get the other trade-specific contractors on board.”
Ronna Davis Baca, CommScope Inc., Richardson, Texas, said smart buildings offer an opportunity for ECs. These new facilities provide opportunity to not only install smart equipment but also help with the infrastructure that supports it.
“Many systems that have traditionally run over AC power systems are moving to PoE [power of ethernet] for the improved device management, energy efficiency, simultaneous power and data communications, and safety,” Baca said. “Knowledge of low-voltage systems and expertise in network infrastructure installation will allow your organization to advance with the market. Electrical contractors that embrace the change and act as enablers for smart buildings will be the victors.”
Joseph Bocchiaro III, consultant with the Sextant Group in Washington, D.C., also believes PoE and low-voltage requirements mean the electrical contractor is important to wire this configuration.
“As the lines blur between traditional electrical power and ‘structured cabling’ power, there may be a decrease in the amount of high-voltage wiring, and there will be new opportunities to cable buildings with low-voltage,” Bocchiaro said. “Already, some specialized spaces such as data centers are realizing energy efficiencies by powering all of the devices with distributed low-voltage.”
Mark Benson, CTO of the firm Exosite, summarized that buildings will not only get smarter, but they also will get more technologically complex.
“[Electrical contractors can] differentiate themselves by having knowledge about what these smart building technologies are, how they are installed and configured, and how they can be operated in a way that maximizes energy use and ease of service,” he said.
As smart buildings become more complex, opportunities for ECs prevail. Specific know-how and experience in smart building outfitting and design will serve as a strong preparation for what we’ll likely see in smart buildings of the future.
For its part, Wendy’s plans to build 1,000 locations by 2020 using flexible and smart designs that enable it to provide their services using less real estate. For this company, smart building design is a smart idea.