Although electrical contractors (ECs) aren't yet in the majority when they use high-tech gadgets, a recent survey shows adoption rates are going up. Now is an ideal time for ECs to become familiar with what's available.
Here are seven types of tech ECs could use on job sites and why those advancements help.
1. Equipment tagging
The study found 16 percent of ECs use equipment tagging now, and 30 percent plan to within three years. Equipment tagging helps ECs work with fewer disruptions, especially if the tags connect to electronic databases, accessible via smartphones. Then, users could scan a tag and find out when equipment entered service, the date of a more recent inspection and more.
As such, it's possible to spend less time looking for paperwork that provides the same information. Users could view cloud-stored content instead.
2. Wearable technology
Only 6 percent of ECs use wearable technology currently, but the percentage should climb to 23 percent in the next three years. Potential use cases for wearables geared toward electrical professionals are still emerging, but the options are nonetheless exciting.
Proxxi is a wearable voltage sensor that detects energized equipment and warns the user when they get dangerously close. Captured data also shows up on a mobile app and a companywide dashboard, allowing supervisors to see which workers might need remedial training.
Numerous wearables also monitor the body temperature and other vitals of industrial workers. Then, users and their superiors can get alerts if it's time to take a break and hydrate or warm up before catastrophes happen.
3. RFID tagging
Radio frequency identification (RFID) tags help companies monitor their assets and get real-time location updates about those items. About 8 percent of ECs use them now, and the total should reach 21 percent within a few years. Protecting and maximizing the use of essential supplies allows work site operations to efficiently progress, as managers have peace of mind knowing they can learn where a piece of equipment is and who is using it.
In cases where ECs bring company-owned equipment to work with them, RFID tags help ensure those items come onto the site each day and leave at the end of a shift, thereby reducing incidences of loss.
4. 3-D printing
Options are available that let ECs use 3-D printing techniques instead of more traditional kinds of machining. In comparison, 3-D printing is less wasteful than older possibilities because it only uses the precise amount of supplies needed for the produced item. However, some 3-D printers don't tolerate as many materials as other machining choices, meaning they have limitations.
Recent 3-D printing experiments relevant to ECs include a project involving 3-D-printed conductors as well as using 3-D printing to improve the housing of an electrical generator. There are also achievements related to using 3-D printing to build entire houses in a matter of days. If those developments continue to progress, electricians may find there are ways to speed up the wiring of those homes, too.
For example, researchers at UC Berkeley depended on 3-D printing to produce basic electrical components, including sensors with embedded electronics. By doing something similar, ECs may find it's easier and more efficient than usual to source the parts they need.
However, only 5 percent currently use 3-D printing, with the percentage expected to go up to 9 percent in the next three years. Those statistics suggest there's ample room for growth over a longer period.
5. Reality capture
Reality capture is another technology with a 3-D aspect. The people who depend on it use advanced means—sometimes by relying on dedicated software called RealityCapture—to take laser scans or photographs of an object or building site, then receiving a 3-D representation of it in mere minutes.
This technology could save time for ECs by letting them avoid some labor-intensive aspects of their work without sacrificing accuracy or quality. The survey mentioned in the introduction revealed 7 percent of respondents use it now, but that percentage will more than double to 16 percent within three years.
6. Augmented and virtual reality
Exciting possibilities exist for using augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) to assist electrical contractors. In one case, a person trying out a pair of smart glasses repaired an electrical panel, showing how there's potential to use AR and VR to train ECs. Also, engineers in Dubai that work for an electrical and water authority don high-tech glasses to see inside turbines.
AR and VR could prove useful during the planning stages of figuring out how to wire a building or discuss the best kinds of lighting to meet a client's needs. If an EC and a customer both used AR or VR gadgets to envision the finished appearance of a structure, making decisions about how to proceed could be more straightforward than it is now.
Reportedly, 13 percent of those polled use AR or VR in their work now, with 17 percent anticipating they will within three years.
7. Automated equipment or robotics
Automated and robotic advancements enable people to do routine tasks with more efficiency and less fatigue. ECs can enjoy those benefits, too. A New Zealand power provider launched a four-week trial to send robots to rural areas and assess situations like power outages before technicians evaluate what's wrong.
It takes professionals 90 minutes on average to reach isolated sites, but these robots could facilitate faster service.
Elsewhere, some power plant operators use exceptionally compact robots for inspections. ECs could also use automation to safely cut the power supply in a hazardous situation without risking their lives to do it.
About 5 percent of contractors surveyed use robots and automation now, and the amount should increase to 14 percent within a few years.
Exciting applications for technology
This list highlights some of the fascinating technologies ECs could use and why they should. As advancements continue to arrive, the ways to apply them will also increase.