Why Electrical Contractors Should Care About the IoT

The internet of things (IoT) is one of the most significant breakthroughs of the 21st century. Focusing on increased connectivity, streamlined communications and mobile hardware—which includes automated factory robots and machinery—the platform has the potential to affect nearly every industry.

Its effect on some of the more labor-intensive jobs, like electrical contracting and engineering, is already apparent. Nonetheless, some professionals still struggle to realize the benefits.

“I think a lot of blue-collar workers have a justified fear of technology,” said Yves Frinault, founder and CEO of Fieldwire. “Many startups that we've seen over the last five years or so have focused on automating, and thereby eliminating, jobs. However, it's important to keep an open mind when it comes to technology, because there are platforms out there, like Fieldwire, that are meant to empower the worker and make their jobs easier.”

“Embracing technology that improves efficiency can also make automated solutions less attractive to employers, helping to maintain available positions for skilled workers,” Frinault said.

Greater bandwidth needs

On a rudimentary level, the IoT is laying the groundwork for a more stable and consistent network that benefits electrical contractors and their customers alike.

"IoT presents a new frontier in the control and management of tools, equipment, labor and analysis," said Matthew Ramage, Global Marcom and Asset Management Director at Trimble. "A connected network of assets, which through automations can tell you where they are, their condition, whether they're due a calibration or service; you can even calibrate, re-set or diagnose issues remotely.  This would prevent unnecessary travel, missed service intervals, lost equipment or hoarding."

As the IoT uses datasets of increasing size and scope, it's easy to see how the technology might evolve with a little more time—it is still in its infancy, after all.

An increase in network bandwidth has a rippling effect that will resonate into other areas. The construction industry, for example, is already set to take full advantage of the IoT and everything it has to offer.

As a result, electrical contractors are seeing an increased demand for their services involving new construction. Some contractors are even branching out to include IT service and installation, too.

“As technology is continuously integrated into every aspect of our lives, electrical contractors are uniquely positioned to take advantage of advances in IoT technology,” Frinault said. “Compared to the other trades typically present on the job site, [ECs] are best positioned to capture this new scope.”

“As technology is continuously integrated into every aspect of our lives, electrical contractors are uniquely positioned to take advantage of advances in IoT technology. Compared to the other trades typically present on the job site, [ECs] are best positioned to capture this new scope.”

—Yves Frinault, founder and CEO of Fieldwire

“In the same way that electrical contractors naturally went from power wiring to ethernet wiring for the computer-equipped office, they will likely be invited to take on Internet devices in the same way,” he said. “While some new technologies can be daunting to implement, finding tech that helps you do your job better is key.”

Changes in modern construction

Both home and workplace automation are on the rise. The IoT affects modern construction methods in several different ways. Some of these applications are on the technical side of things and, as a result, are rarely seen by the public.

Builders that collect and analyze data from various sources (e.g., local weather, traffic and even the environment) are a basic example of how the IoT is used to gather information and bolster modern construction.

The effects of the IoT are also evident inside new homes, condos and apartments. Smart appliances include everything from connected washers and dryers to integrated security systems and smart energy systems—all of which need to be considered when planning the construction of a new home.

Beyond the home, the IoT offers opportunities that will potentially streamline the way contractors attract work because these devices will diagnose themselves. However, someone will still need to install these devices and fix them when things go wrong.

"Our work will include the installation of equipment [that] talks and influences one another," Ramage said. "Weather or population sensors will alter temperature and humidity in certain zones. Fans running inefficiently will flag their issues and self-diagnose a solution, potentially issuing commands to other equipment, which may be able to improve performance."

With so much to do in the way of electrical construction, electrical contractors generally have no shortage of work. Acquiring it is a matter of agility and foresight.

New products and services are leading to new career possibilities

There are also some new and exciting career opportunities for professionals in the field of electrical engineering.

Contractors who take the time to learn and promote IoT-oriented devices can cultivate increased sales and even recurring revenue streams as more businesses and consumers embrace the IoT.

In its current state, most of the devices within the IoT are relatively simple. They are easily understood and usable by nearly anyone with a basic familiarity with computers.

"Our work will include the installation of equipment [that] talks and influences one another," Ramage said. "Weather or population sensors will alter temperature and humidity in certain zones. Fans running inefficiently will flag their issues and self-diagnose a solution, potentially issuing commands to other equipment, which may be able to improve performance."

—Matthew Ramage, Global Marcom and Asset Management Director at Trimble

Smart thermostats, for example, use a set-it-and-forget-it model that is both intuitive and effective. Wi-Fi-enabled smart plugs let you moderate power consumption, and some even report information regarding overall usage back to a smartphone app or computer program.

IoT-oriented devices are growing increasingly sophisticated. Intel recently pioneered a next-gen building management system (BMS) to support IoT- and cloud-based breakthroughs. Known as the Intel Building Management Platform (BMP), it facilitates quick and secure access to all the data and devices within the IoT.

Other innovations, like the 5G wireless technology coming in 2020, promise to spur the development of new products and services at greater speeds than ever before.

Get a head start on the competition

All these breakthroughs spell good news for electrical contractors. The most determined professionals are taking a proactive stance and learning these new systems while the technology is still young and easily accessible.

Others—who are waiting for the IoT to become more mainstream—might find themselves struggling to keep up with demand once the transition finally happens.

About the Author

Kayla Matthews

Kayla Matthews is a technology writer whose work has appeared on VentureBeat, Metering & Smart Energy International, VICE and The Huffington Post. To read more posts by Kayla, you can visit her blog, Productivity Bytes.

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