During 2018, electrical contractors saw various technologies start to have a larger role in the electrical construction industry. In 2019, they'll see many of these innovations have an even more prominent role and encounter new tech, too. Like so many other industries, electrical construction is becoming more connected, automated and efficient.
Here are eight technologies electrical contractors can expect to see in 2019 and beyond.
Automation is transforming industries of all sorts, including electrical construction. In 2019, electrical contractors may start using more robotics and automation technologies.
Some robotics-based technologies already in use help improve safety for electrical workers. Contractors can, for example, set up a wireless underground cable cutter and then control it remotely. Researchers have also built a prototype of a robot that can climb utility poles. This device isn't in use yet, but in the near future, more tools like this will likely be introduced.
Automation technologies can help improve the safety and efficiency of electrical work. Concerns about job loss always accompany the emergence of automation tech. Electrical contractors are at less risk, though, than workers in other sectors because they work in the field rather than in a controlled environment, and their jobs require dexterity and hand-eye coordination.
2. The smart grid
The overall electrical grid is getting smarter, and that transformation is starting to affect the work of electrical contractors. Smart grid initiatives involve incorporating sensors and other smart technologies into electrical system infrastructure, enabling utilities and customers to get more detailed information about energy usage and control it more granularly.
Over the next few years, electrical contractors will play an important role in enabling the transition to a smarter grid. They will also need to learn how to work with smart grid technologies, as they'll begin to encounter them more in the field.
Wearable technology, like smart watches, Fitbits and other devices, have made a splash in the consumer space. Similar technologies are also having an impact on the job in various industries, including electrical construction.
Many of the wearable devices used by electrical contractors can help enhance safety. Recent examples include Proxxi, a bracelet with an integrated sensor that vibrates if you get too close to high-voltage electricity. Another example is SolePower smart boots, which include lighting, GPS, temperature sensing and cloud connectivity. The boots can provide warnings about falls, overheating and proximity to hazards. They're also self-charging.
Most wearable technologies electrical contractors would find useful are still in the early stages of their development. They'll become more prominent, though, moving forward.
4. Prefabricated products
Modular construction is growing in popularity, and the prefabricated trend is impacting the work of electrical contractors. Using premade solutions helps reduce the amount of repetitive work electrical workers need to do on-site, and some products come with fittings already attached.
Prefabrication helps make electrical work safer and more efficient. This efficiency could help compensate for the labor shortage the construction industry is currently experiencing. In the future, prewired walls may arrive on-site, significantly increasing the speed of projects.
5. Energy-efficient lighting technologies
LEDs have been a significant development in lighting technology in recent years. These types of lamps, which incorporate PCBs and other components, are much more efficient and longer-lasting than other types of lamps.
In the coming years, LEDs will become more prominent, and the quality of LED products and designs will improve. Other technologies will also be integrated into lighting fixtures to improve their efficiency. Smart lamps can be controlled remotely.
They may even be able to adapt to the habits of their users in the future like smart thermostats do today. Wireless lighting products are also helping to speed up install times. In some cases, they can improve speeds by up to 70 percent.
6. Client relationship and project management software
Companies across various industries are now using software programs, often delivered via the cloud, to improve efficiency and maximize profits.
These types of programs can be useful to electrical contractors, and some are even made specifically for the electrical construction industry. Contractors can use this technology to keep track of their interactions with customers, organize scheduling and billing, and reduce paperwork. In 2019 and beyond, electrical contractors can leverage data using project and client relationship management software to make their businesses more efficient.
7. The internet of things (IoT)
One of the biggest tech themes of the last few years has been the internet of things. The IoT, as it's often called, is a network of devices that are connected to the internet and can exchange data. 5G, the next generation of cellular mobile communications, is expected to finally deploy throughout 2019 and enable the broader use of IoT.
As IoT devices become more common, electrical connectors will begin to encounter them on the job. Learning how to work with IoT devices could open up new job opportunities for electricians. Contractors may also start to use internet-connected tools themselves.
Drones may have started as gadgets for hobbyists, but they now see myriad commercial uses as well. Electrical construction is one area where they're particularly useful. One recent survey of seven sectors found that construction and engineering used drones the most. The companies in the survey were all larger companies, but as drones continue to become more affordable, smaller electrical contractors may start using them too.
Drones, also called unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), have various applications in electrical construction. You can use them to survey potential project sites, monitor progress and inspect existing infrastructure. You can connect cameras and various sensors to UAVs, including thermal imaging and infrared attachments.
The technologies electrical contractors work with and encounter on the job change constantly. This coming year, those in the electrical construction industry will see more technologies that enable data collection and analysis, improved energy efficiency and other benefits. They'll also begin to use more tech to enhance their own safety, efficiency and productivity. Those in the industry would be wise to become familiar with current and future technologies that can enhance their careers.