A switch saves time
14 September 2020
DAVE TYLER discusses the benefits of switching from terminal strips to lever or push-in connectors when installing electrical distribution networks in an industrial environment
The old adage ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ is a mantra often quoted by those content to remain permanently within their comfort zone where they can use tried and tested tools and techniques to complete jobs in just the same way they’ve always done it. There’s a lot to be said for that philosophy; it’s a low risk, no learning curve strategy that champions experience over innovation and uses skills that have been hard won over years of practice.
The problem is, without trying new tools and techniques, we don’t find out whether the job can be done faster, better and with a greater level of consistency. Often, keeping to the same routines can mean missing an opportunity to save time and improve quality. The industrial sector often leads the way in taking this agile approach to continuous improvement, embracing the opportunity to gain commercial benefits through marginal gains.
When it comes to electrical fit outs, machinery installation projects and facility upgrades, those marginal gains can be significant. Even small time savings on a single task like cable terminations can add up to substantial time and cost savings over the length of a full installation. What’s more, fail-proof consistency reduces the risk of quality issues and the potential for unplanned downtime and operational issues.
Recognising the opportunity to adopt new equipment and techniques is the first step to incorporating them in the value chain both for new facilities and for operational and maintenance management of existing industrial environments. Even in the industrial sector, however, where innovation is outcome-focused approaches to positive change are commonplace, ingrained techniques can sometimes be slow to evolve. Often, lean management principles and continuous improvement programmes are focused on the industrial process rather than the production facility itself, so more prosaic opportunities for marginal gains related to the built asset can be overlooked. Installation of terminal strips during an electrical installation or upgrade may seem like simplest of tasks using the most utilitarian of generic products, but, even here, there are time, quality, cost and consistency gains to be had. Simply by switching to lever or push-in connectors, it could be possible to save man hours and achieve a more consistent and compliant installation.
Barriers to change
Electrical installers and maintenance teams are not alone sticking with traditional ways of getting the job done rather than seeking out new techniques for faster, more consistent approaches. Often proven methodologies are passed down from one generation to the next, and there remains a tendency to select known and trusted products rather than more modern and innovative alternatives.
With commodity items and routine tasks like the installation of terminal strips, the problem is that most electricians and maintenance engineers will continue using products and installation techniques they used when they trained, particularly when it comes to routine tasks like making connections.
However, in a demanding sector where reconfiguration of electrical networks to adapt to process requirements is a continuous requirement, it’s important to look out for better, faster and easier ways of carrying out electrical installations. Switching from terminal strips to push-in or lever connectors may seem like taking a leap into the unfamiliar for electricians and maintenance engineers that have been using terminal strips throughout their career but, once they have made the change, professionals are reluctant to switch back because of the time and ease of use advantages.
The other barrier to change when it comes to switching from terminal strips to lever or push-in connectors is perceptions of cost. While the unit price of connectors may be slightly more than terminal strips, the time savings they offer easily offset the minimal additional costs. Connectors not only help to keep the job within programme, but also reduce labour costs and free up the time of the maintenance team. What’s more, making the switch provides peace of mind because use of connectors removes any inconsistency associated with the tightening of terminal strip screws, thereby building value into the cost of the connectors by reducing the need for quality assurance checks and eliminating the risk of issues on the electrical network.
Improving installation integrity
An installed cost purchasing strategy for delivering consistently safe and high quality installations by using lever or push-in connectors doesn’t only reduce installation time: it also delivers quality assurance for the completed installation.
Firstly, it ensures that installations are consistently safe and compliant with current wiring regulations. The 18th Edition requires that traditional terminal strip connections should be accessible for annual inspections in compliance with BS EN 60670-22 which makes it difficult to select a suitable location for terminal strip connections, leading to non-compliance for many projects. Conversely, lever and push-in connectors are classified as maintenance-free when used in conjunction with an approved enclosure box, so can be part of a compliant installation anywhere within the facility.
Secondly, using connectors rather than terminal strips ensures every connection is consistent because there is no variation in the tightening of the fixing screw that fastens the cable in place. Choosing connectors with a stripping guide on the side to aid consistently accurate stripping of the cable prior to connection, along with a CPC port for relevant testing ensures even greater accuracy and speed and ease of installation benefits.
This standardised approach to making the connections ensures lever and push-in connectors deliver a fit-and-forget solution, as well as driving speed of installation. While terminal strip installations can provide speed and consistency when carried out by an experienced electrician, connectors remove any margin for error, even for inexperienced electricians or maintenance engineers. This means that routine connections can be given to less experienced operatives on site, freeing-up the team’s most experienced professionals for more complex jobs.
Lever and push-in connectors are not new, but neither are they static. They may be considered a generic, commodity product but there is scope to develop these useful items to make them even easier and more cost-effective. It’s important to look for a robust and well-designed product that provides quality at an attractive price point, to ensure the connectors chosen offer a user-friendly, cost-effective and quality-led alternative to terminal strips.
As the industrial sector continues to face the commercial pressures of meeting demand, managing overheads and maintaining facilities, even the smallest of components in a built asset needs to be considered as part of continuous improvement in managing time, reducing costs and maintaining quality. A switch from terminal strips to lever or push-in connectors could be one of the marginal gains that contributes to a competitive edge in challenging times.
Dave Tyler is sales manager UK South at Ideal Industries