Of course, managing the finances of a project also entails evaluating the risk/reward ratio. Installing inexpensive components may save money in the short term. But, if those components fail, the price of labor and replacement parts will cost you more in the long run.
Thankfully, the creative types at the manufacturing level are developing new products that improve the quality of electrical components and reduce the amount of time required to perform repetitious tasks. This may be the time to ask two questions: “Am I using products that will save money now?” and, “Am I maximizing the use of my labor force?”
You may be pleasantly surprised to learn that some new products are so easy to install that apprentices can perform tasks normally assigned to journeymen.
For example, the 38 Special lock-and-load snap-in fitting was recently introduced by Bridgeport Fittings Inc. You may have installed so many wires into junction boxes that the effort is routine. However, Bridgeport’s patented, Underwriters Laboratories (UL) listed Whipper-Snap family of zinc fittings allows an installer to snap wires into a box in seconds, eliminating the time necessary to install a lock nut.
Constructed with a spring-steel locking device, double locking tabs hold the connector in the box and allow them to be removed by depressing the tab with a screwdriver. The tabs are smooth, eliminating the risk of wires snagging on the fixture or damaging insulation.
Bridgeport offers the connectors in a family of configurations that includes insulated parts. If your next job has 100 junction boxes and you save only one minute in each installation, you will free up more than an hour of a journeyman’s time.
But, first things first. We are still in charge of getting the wire from one point to another, right? Enter the Maxis Cable power puller. Rather than struggling with wire runs that begin in the basement and end in the attic, the puller will move up to 4,000 pounds of wire from 25 to 100 feet per minute, depending on the power source.
The puller can be adapted for use on overhead pulls and operated by one person with a setup time of two minutes. The unit weighs 60 pounds, stands 64 inches tall when assembled and 37 inches when dissembled, so it won’t take up valuable storage space. Maxis recommends Milwaukee Hole Hawg drill, Dewalt DW124—a two-speed right-angle drill—or Milwaukee Super Hawg drill to power the unit.
A new home for the wires
“The Steel City GO Box is a revolutionary new product. The ‘go’ in ‘GO Box’ has dual meaning,” said John Archer, Thomas & Betts construction manager. “First, the ‘go’ is simply related to the fundamental purpose of the box itself. Go faster, go quicker, let’s go! The name itself conveys speed, and that’s exactly what the box was designed for.
“Second, ‘grip-on’ is how the box is installed. Typically, nonmetallic boxes are attached to wood framing studs by hammering pre-installed nails on the top and bottom of the box into the side of the wood stud. This can take upwards of 6 to 10 seconds to complete, depending on things like alignment of box, fatigue, natural speed of the installer and box angle.
“With the GO Box, it takes half a second to install, and you can do it with one hand by simply pushing the box onto the stud. The bracket does all the work, gripping the box onto the stud, and automatically aligns the box parallel to the face of the stud.”
According to Archer, an average home of 2,000 square feet can have more than 100 single gang boxes installed, with two main cost concerns: material and labor.
“It doesn’t surprise people that this box is more expensive than a standard nail-on unit, a function of the amount of material used to manufacture the box-bracket combination,” Archer said. “However, the GO Box can save upwards of 60 percent on the labor costs, so taking into account both the material and labor, it can still generate upwards of 20 percent overall cost savings. That is exclusive of the additional available time generated because the installers finished the job 60 percent faster than before. This new product carries the UL logo [and is] two-hour fire-wall rated.”
There is more. The inventors at Pass & Seymour have developed a faster method of connecting three wires to the box, a perennial time-waster. The company’s PlugTail system consists of prestripped PlugTail connector leads and a connector that snaps into the PlugTail device.
From a functional standpoint, PlugTail may eliminate the need to make pigtails, drag a wire caddy, strip conductors or tape terminals. In factory demonstrations, connecting and mounting the PlugTail device took 37 seconds, an 80 percent improvement in productivity, and the task was performed by unskilled workers. Pass & Seymour offers the PlugTail for heavy-duty use in hospitals and institutions, retail and office environments, and the hospitality industry.
Anderson Power Products Touch-Safe SBS50 connectors for hazardous voltage applications may help avoid on-site accidents, another labor cost factor. Anderson’s two-pole finger-proof connector provides protection to users by eliminating finger contact with live circuits, per EN 950 (European Norm) and UL 60950 specifications. It is recommended for use with voltages in systems operating from 50 to 600 volts, where risk of shock can be life threatening.
Its slim, ergonomic design is contoured to fit the operator’s grip, making it easier to connect and disconnect. Other safety features are color-coded housings keyed to prevent accidental mating of connectors operating at different voltage levels and flat wipe contact technology rated for circuit interruption (hot plugging) under load.
When an installation calls for more than a typical junction box, a Wiremold prewired raceway may fit the bill, since the company claims it can be installed in one third the time of a traditional raceway. Rather than directing technicians to manufacture raceways in the field, where they deal with the vagaries of environment and raw materials, Wiremold will manufacture runs to precise job site lengths. This product is especially efficacious on school projects and installations with strict, short construction cycles.
Installation of the PVC runs is accelerated by the use of adhesive backing and the availability of standard 6- and 8-foot lengths, minimizing the number of cuts that produce scrap and may detract from the run’s appearance.
Two more points: fiber optic fittings are available, reducing the stress on the cable, and datacom connectivity options provide an interface for voice, data, audio and video applications.
Plus, there is no “hide-and-seek” involved with deliveries, since individual packages identify the location to which a raceway should be delivered and are accompanied by documentation and blueprints.
Jay Haldeman of Milwaukee-based Roman Electric Co. Inc. discovered a product that reduced labor costs associated with hanging lighting fixtures by 60 percent. The same savings is available when hanging speakers, alarm sensors, signage or pipes.
Roman Electric was awarded the contract for hanging 250 Hubbell high-bay lights when a manufacturing client decided to upgrade from high-pressure sodium to metal halide lights.
“When it came to hanging the new lights, the goals were to save time and money and allow for easy equipment reconfiguration at a later date,” said Haldeman.
He knew that hanging lights using jack chains can be time consuming and make it difficult to relocate machinery, so he decided to try the Caddy Speed Link, a universal support system from ERICO.
“We actually hung a few lights using jack chain and then we hung some using Speed Link,” Haldeman said. “From start to finish, using chain took at least 25 minutes to suspend and level a fixture and using Speed Link took us less than 10 minutes.”
Caddy Speed Link installs without drilling, allows objects to be hung at any angle and adjusted after installation. A key component is a steel locking device that ensures stability that can be released with the key or with a small screwdriver, reducing adjustment time. Since a notch in the key holds the lock in an open position, a tech’s hands are free to level the fixture.
“When we had to raise the lights, it took five seconds. In areas that we used the jack chain, it probably took 10 or 15 minutes to get the lights up to the new height,” Haldeman said.
There is a common belief that “old dogs” (like your key employees, and clients) can’t learn new tricks. But the reality is they might want to. Plus, you may discover that newly developed products—though costly—may add sufficient value to justify their use, compared to “the way we’ve always done it.”
The pages of Electrical Contractor are filled with editorial content and advertisements for products that could improve the quality of services you provide clients. Those that save time will increase your firm’s productivity, allowing you to direct more black ink to the bottom line. EC
LAWRENCE is a freelance writer and photographer based in Bozeman, Mont. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.