Lancaster, PA Electrician Directory

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Other Tricks
Other Tricks hfullmer Fri, 09/20/2019 - 17:08

Other Tricks

When we discuss our work in fiber optics with people who are not communications contractors or installers, many people assume we work with medical fiber optics because that’s the fiber optics most people are familiar with. Medical applications of fiber optics in diagnostics and surgery are common, and many people have had some experience with them.

But the uses of fiber optics outside communications are much broader. Fiber is used for lighting, laser surgery and welding, replacing spark plugs, detonating bombs and many types of devices to sense physical parameters such as sound, pressure, chemical content, etc. Airplanes and ships even use gyroscopes made with fiber optics. This month, we’ll review some of these other applications.

Light bright

One of the first uses for fiber optics was illumination. Make a fairly large (~3 mm) bundle of fibers and polish both ends. Then, put a bright light at one end with a lens to focus the light into the bundle and light will come out the other end. The light can be focused with a lens at the other end.

This method of illumination can provide a bright light in hard-to-reach spaces, with the advantage that it isolates the light source’s heat from what is illuminated. This is a big advantage when looking at sensitive or delicate objects. Some fibers also radiate light from the fiber’s edges, creating illumination  that looks very much like a neon light. Therefore, it can be used for applications similar to neon tubes, such as signs. 

Fiber optic lighting uses nonconductive glass or plastic fibers, so it also can be used to provide lighting in areas where electrical lighting is dangerous, such as around swimming pools or in explosive atmospheres.

Pass the remote 

Another application for fiber optics was remote imaging. If we carefully arrange that bundle of fibers in a series of rows on one end and exactly duplicate the arrangement on the other—a coherent bundle—we can use this fiber array for imaging. Each fiber acts like a pixel in a digital display by creating an image with the resolution of the number of fibers. Lenses on each end help create the image views and some fibers, usually around the outside, can be used to carry light to illuminate the subject being viewed. That’s how medical endoscopes work, but the same technique is used for inspecting inside machinery that would otherwise have to be disassembled to inspect.

Cutting in 

Couple enough power into the fibers, or even into a single fiber, and you can do laser surgery, which is a good solution for some tricky operations such as inside human joints. Laser surgery has one big advantage: the heat from the laser cauterizes tissue and minimizes bleeding. Special probes help perform unique surgery, such as one that will insert devices, such as a fiber mesh, to repair internal tears such as hernias. 

Other fiber optic probes contain sensors made from fiber optics. In medical applications, fiber sensors can measure color, pressure or chemical content, such as oxygen in blood, allowing doctors to examine inside the body without major surgery or disturbing normal body functions.

Couple even more power into a fiber, and you can laser-weld and cut. You can also use this technique to create bomb detonators. One note of caution: When you get to these power levels, dirt or contamination on the ends of a fiber can be an even bigger problem than in communications. At these power levels, the dirt can explode and damage or destroy the fibers.

Fiber optic medical applications are not just for imaging or surgery. All those high-tech medical devices must communicate. High-resolution digital X-rays, CAT, MRI or PET scans and other medical-diagnostic tests generate large amounts of data to be sent to specialists for analysis. Many of those big diagnostic machines generate increased electromagnetic interference, which is another advantage of communications over fiber optics for both internal and external connections. We can probably safely say that every major hospital uses plenty of fiber optics for communications. And those cables and systems are installed by typical fiber optic installers.

Some of the most interesting fiber optic applications are for sensors in the outside world. In some cases, the fiber itself is the sensor, but, in others, it is simply used to transport light to the sensor. Fiber optic sensors can monitor high-voltage transmission lines, find leaks on pipelines, measure physical conditions for deep well drilling and listen for submarines off the coast.

We will cover some of these applications in more detail in future columns.

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Chalk It up to Experience
Chalk It up to Experience hfullmer Fri, 09/20/2019 - 17:06

Chalk It up to Experience

Advent Systems, Inc., Elmhurst, Ill., provides low-voltage services in the areas of security and CCTV management systems, audio/visual, network cabling, and paging/sound masking. It operates out of two locations with a total of about 130 employees.

Michael Walsdorf, company president, attributes the success to a number of competitive advantages. The first is specialization in low-voltage work.

“In fact, all of our work is low-voltage,” Walsdorf said. “While we do all of this type of work, most of our work is focused on security, access control and CCTV,” he said.

The company’s second competitive advantage is the depth of experience of its workers. 

“Most of our employees have years of experience with us and have acquired a lot of specialized training,” Walsdorf said. “In fact, our people have enough experience that we are able to install, maintain and service everything that we sell.”

The company rarely needs to subcontract anything out. 

“The only things we don’t physically perform ourselves is if we are on a job that involves large amounts of conduit,” he said. “If that is part of the scope of our job requirement, we will generally subcontract that out.”

Advent Systems also provides breadth of experience in addition to depth.

In addition, “We have all of the resources in-house to do the things we do,” Walsdorf said. “In addition to our technical people, we employ a lot of people with specialized skills. We can bring subject-matter experts to any problems that occur by utilizing our own staff.” 

One example is software specialists. The company also has its own full-time professional sales force that is responsible for developing new business.

Besides installation, the company has significant expertise and experience in performing service work. It has its own separate service department, staffed by 17 field technicians with specialized training in communications technology.

“We have a large maintenance contract business, and we also sell parts to our customers,” Walsdorf said.

While the service department reports to the vice president of operations, it is considered a separate entity within the company and has its own staff members.

“For example, we have a staff of people to answer phones, coordinate service with customers and schedule our people,” he said. 

Employees at Advent Systems focus a lot of attention on coordinating seamlessly with and among each other.

“We coordinate internally very well,” he said. “We are organized along functional lines. Our vice president of operations has weekly meetings where we coordinate and allocate our manpower, so we are together with our people frequently, talking about projects and project schedules, and making sure that we have the resources in place where they are needed and when they are needed to meet customer schedules.”

Management further ensures this coordination by engaging in the proven strategy of management by walking around. 

“We have a lot of face time with our people,” Walsdorf said.

Finally, Advent Systems prides itself on its ability to work well with others on projects. Whether it is engaged in new construction, expansion projects on existing buildings or retrofit projects, everyone in the company gets along well with the general contractors they work with, as well as with people from the other trades.

“We know how to schedule and plan, and this ensures that things move smoothly,” Walsdorf said.

While Advent Systems works in virtually all industries, its six primary focus areas are healthcare, commercial/office, educational, industrial, municipal and retail.

“We do a tremendous amount of healthcare work, including new construction, maintenance and service,” Walsdorf said. “We also do a lot of work in commercial real estate/office. For example, we have a lot of customers with new suburban campuses that we have built and that we continue to maintain for them over the years.”

One of the company’s many noteworthy projects was working on the recently completed McDonald’s headquarters facility on the west side of Chicago. Success was due in large part to the company’s competitive advantages all coming together.

“This was a large, high-profile project, with the tightest of all possible time frames, which got further compressed as the job went along,” Walsdorf said. “As such, our ability to have all of our own labor and to coordinate well with the GC were critical to success.”

“A project like this had large systems that had to be installed and integrated in a short period of time,” he said. “If we didn’t have trained people, and if we were not able to coordinate, it would [have been] more difficult than it was.”

In fact, Walsdorf believes that one of the reasons Advent Systems was hired by the GC for the McDonald’s project was because the GC knew the company’s reputation for being able to be responsive and to perform a difficult job like this.

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A Method to the Madness: Tips for how to pass acceptance testing the first time
A Method to the Madness: Tips for how to pass acceptance testing the first time aconstanza Fri, 09/20/2019 - 17:05

A Method to the Madness: Tips for how to pass acceptance testing the first time

NFPA 72 describes three types of fire alarm testing: acceptance testing for new systems, re-accep-tance testing for modifications to systems and periodic testing for the ongoing testing of existing fire alarm systems. Over the years, I have seen and heard of many ways that acceptance testing is conducted. I recommend that you be proactive and act as the leader for this important test. 

Today, it seems that everything is fast-tracked, and there is pressure to get the job done on time. Fire alarm contractors are usually the last to get started because you can’t put a horn on a wall that doesn’t exist. Fire alarm contractors also are the first expected to be done, because a building owner needs to have working fire protection and fire alarm systems before a certificate of occupancy can be issued. 

Here are some ideas that may make your life easier and will give you some control over this test.

First of all, be sure you attend all construction meetings so you are aware of current expected timelines. Make sure the general contractor and other trades know what you need to finish on time. Be sure to document these meetings.

Second, it’s helpful to have the fire marshal attend some of these meetings, too. The marshal’s requirements mean a lot more than your requests, and they can be very helpful in this regard. Remember, you need to follow the requirements of the codes, and just because the GC tells you something, it doesn’t necessarily mean that thing is going to happen. For example, on a fast-track job, you are often expected to install smoke detectors prior to the building being cleaned. This is probably the No. 1 cause of unwanted alarms in new fire alarm systems, and trust me, you will be the one blamed when this happens. The fire marshal can help make this point.

As far as the actual acceptance test goes, we all know that representatives from other trades—with equipment that will be connected to the fire alarm system—need to be present during the test. It is important that you act as the coordinator to manage the schedule for other trade representatives and the authority having jurisdiction so everyone is present. You want to have all AHJs there for the parts of the test they need to witness, so you only have to perform the test once. For example, if you have smoke or heat detectors installed for elevator recall or shutdown, you will have to perform that test for the fire inspector and the elevator inspector. Try to get both there at the same time. 

There is an added benefit of doing this. They don’t always have the same opinion about elevator fire alarm equipment installation. I have actually had contractors tell me that they have installed smoke detectors in the elevator hoistway for the fire department test and removed them for the elevator inspector test. That is definitely not a good plan. It is obviously better to start working this out well in advance, since you may have to initiate a meeting or two with both of them to work out the differences.

Work out a detailed schedule because not everyone needs to be there for the full test. People are busy, and it will be appreciated. For example, you may show that the fire alarm notification appliances will be tested between 8:00 and 8:30 a.m., elevator fire alarm initiating devices between 8:30 and 9:00 a.m., HVAC duct detectors between 9:00 and 9:30 a.m. and so forth. By doing this in advance, each interested party can plan to be there at the appointed time. This will greatly improve the chances of passing the first time. No one likes to come back for a second acceptance test because the correct person was not there. Follow up with the others a day or two before the test to remind them of the appointed time. It takes some work, but it is well worth it. I have done this many times; with some effort, the acceptance test goes much smoother and is successful more often than not.

I also recommend that you invite the owner’s representative who will be primarily responsible for the fire alarm system. This would typically be the building engineer. By having that individual present, they will become more familiar with how the system operates and where everything is. An added bonus is that they will meet the fire marshal or inspector.

Be sure to have all the necessary tools and equipment necessary to perform the tests and have a copy of NFPA 72 with you. This way if a question arises about how something is installed or tested, you have the codebook right there to prove your point.

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History in the Making
History in the Making hfullmer Fri, 09/20/2019 - 17:03

History in the Making

Depending on where you live, there are maybe large groups of historical or cultural properties, or possibly only a few that will need your services. As a professional electrical contractor, you have the training and ability to install a fire alarm system in a building so designated, to the extent that you understand the physical and technical requirements of installing such a system.

The question you should ask is, “Do any codes or standards besides NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, NFPA 70 or National Electrical Code apply when installing a fire alarm system in a historical building?” Review NFPA 909, Code for the Protection of Cultural Resource Properties—Museums, Libraries, and Places of Worship, and NFPA 914, Code for Fire Protection of Historic Structures. Also review NFPA 241, Standard for Safeguarding Construction, Alteration, and Demolition Operations. These referenced codes and standards will teach you how to approach a fire alarm system installation in a historical or cultural property.

The contractor’s primary challenge comes from the importance of not damaging the historic fabric of the property during the installation of the fire alarm system. Apart from an occasional large hotel or office building, many historic or cultural institutions have a rather small footprint. The small buildings will employ a volunteer management team with little to no construction experience. Thus, you can become the trusted adviser and ensure the property receives the attention it deserves.

The first step is to walk the property with the person or team in charge and understand not only the property’s historical significance, but the challenges presented by the property’s construction. Each area may present different challenges.

For example, historic St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York has an attic that you could call a “forest” because of all the wood construction. Narrow stairs lead to the attic through numerous levels before you reach the attic itself. This presents obvious challenges. As the trusted adviser, what type of detection would you recommend?

The forest of wooden members means beam-type smoke detection will probably not work properly. Neither would spot-type detectors, due to the ceiling height and configuration. You must always look to the future of the installed system after you have finished the installation. Spot-type smoke detectors would prove difficult to maintain and keep clean.

You will eventually determine an active air-sampling system will make the most sense. These devices generally have three levels of sensitivity settings you could use to provide alarm verification. Assuming you choose this detector, what other demands does this attic present? False alarms are the first and foremost challenge. How do you avoid this issue, and how do you really confirm the presence of an actual fire?

The air-sampling-type smoke detection system could provide alarm verification or confirmation. In other words, when Level 1 alarms, only the facility personnel would receive the alert. This will prompt them to investigate. However, if Level 2 alarms before the facility people can investigate, the alarm would transmit to the fire department and alert building occupants to evacuate.

Because of the attic’s size, first responders would benefit if they could observe the condition before making the arduous trek up the stairs. Thus, you could recommend the installation of cameras—and extra LED lighting, if necessary—so that the first responders can determine what conditions they will face.

In the case of St. Patrick’s, the attic has a water-spray system that will control the fire until first responders can get to the fire location, and there are cameras to assist in evaluating the fire conditions. Likely, you will need to coordinate with the contractor installing the fire-suppression system because your fire alarm system will monitor the operational condition of that suppression system.

One final suggestion is to make certain that the technicians you plan to use to install the fire alarm system understand the historical significance of the property. They must understand why they need to take extreme care while performing the installation.

By following these suggestions, you will become known for the care you take with these properties and will continue to build not only your reputation, but add profits to your bottom line. Remember, knowledge and skill will always lead to professionalism.

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Reaping the Benefits of Solar: How solar power can benefit the EC
Reaping the Benefits of Solar: How solar power can benefit the EC aconstanza Fri, 09/20/2019 - 16:57

Reaping the Benefits of Solar: How solar power can benefit the EC

In the first quarter of 2019, the United States installed 2.7 gigawatts of solar-photovoltaic cells. This is a record number of installations, the most in the first quarter of any year, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

States are making it easier to install solar equipment as they provide incentives, rebates and approve solar farms with use permits.

Installing solar equipment is mandated by California. Every home built after 2020 is required to have a photovoltaic (PV) system. There is expected to be a 15–30% year-over-year increase for residential solar power.

So, what exactly is the benefit of solar power? For one, PV installations have minimal to no adverse effects on the environment. Solar-energy systems do not produce air pollutants or carbon dioxide. They have a beneficial carbon footprint with no emissions or any other detrimental byproducts or pollutants.

They do, however, have some limitations. For instance, the amount of sunlight that arrives at the Earth’s surface varies by location and time of day as well as by season and other weather conditions. Also, a large surface area is needed to collect the significant amount of energy for a population’s power usage.

PV devices change sunlight directly into electricity through small PV cells, which is further rectified and converted into AC power for consumption. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) explains that solar cells are the individual units or wafers that convert sunlight directly into electricity, and a collection of interconnected cells in a sealed package is referred to as a module or panel. Solar panels are installed in arrays, or rows of panels, that, along with other hardware such as an inverter, make up an installation.

On average, U.S. utility-scale solar-photovoltaic power systems operate at about one-fourth of their overall capacity to generate electricity. Such a measure is referred to as a solar-power-generating system’s capacity factor. It is based on the plant’s electricity generation relative to its summer capacity value for plants operates a full year more than it is measured in units of AC power.

Falling costs

A significant advantage for an EC—or for any consumer of electricity—is the declining costs of solar power. The construction cost for PV projects has steadily decreased since 2013 when the EIA began collecting data. The average construction costs had reached a peak of $2,436 per kilowatt in 2016. This was down from $3,705 per kilowatt in 2013. 

PV systems also vary by the type of panel, such as those that have tracking technology. Crystalline silicon solar photovoltaic systems with tracking were the most commonly added solar technology and also the least expensive. Crystalline silicon has also become the most widely used photovoltaic technology as it has matured, and the construction costs of installation have declined. The aforementioned costs have declined by $400-500 per kilowatt per year, mostly due to the economies of scale and the attractive availability of resources and suppliers to provide the equipment at a more favorable cost.

A tremendous opportunity exists for ECs to jump on the solar power train. There will be more installations taking place at commercial and residential facilities, and every solar installation requires skilled electrical contractors to be involved to some extent. Contractors that are vigilant and skilled at handling the technology will benefit from the anticipated and expected wave of installations coming in the months and years ahead.

In addition, better materials will be developed so that solar power can be integrated into building facades and rooftops. Through architectural materials that incorporate photovoltaics, ECs will be able to be involved in the actual physical construction as the materials will now have an electrical component to them. A professional is required to install the physical materials and help with the electrical installation of the new photovoltaic cells.

An EC seeking to reap the benefits of this trend in sustainable energy should learn as much as possible about the technology, the economics, and the trend in lowering prices for solar equipment, and the incentives offered by federal, state and local governments for its installation. According to the EIA, the effect of U.S. tariffs, approved in early 2018, on imported silicon solar cells may have been offset by the continued decline in the cost of PV modules.

ECs should be aware of new technology, its quality and how to assess product quality so they can provide value to an anticipated run-up in solar power installations. For everyone involved in solar power installations, the future looks bright.

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Cool Tools: Construction Software
Cool Tools: Construction Software aconstanza Fri, 09/20/2019 - 16:38

Cool Tools: Construction Software

Every construction company—no matter its size or specialty—depends on computers and the software installed on the machines. 

Computing manages office operations,   finances, company assets, field operations—everything. If you need more convincing, consider what happens when a computer system goes down.

For electrical contractors, top software priorities include comprehensive estimating, bid preparation and management. Financial software packages include invoicing and accounts receivable, and other software packages are available for scheduling and dispatching personnel and asset and project management.

New and updated software and applications—many cloud-based —are introduced in rapid succession, and many programs are bundled to incorporate multiple functions. Advances come at such a rapid pace it can be difficult to keep up. Five electrical contractors share details about the software they are using in their operations.

Wheeler Electric Inc., Idaho Falls, Idaho

Cody Wheeler, vice president of preconstruction, said Wheeler Electric’s essential software for project management is Microsoft Office Outlook and Excel, which the company uses for communication and project changes.

“Beyond that, we use Acrobat for most PDF functions and currently are using Bluebeam and Procore. When it comes to essential functions of software, we look for ways to expedite our standard procedures. We are in our 57th year of business, and technology is not always a ‘go-to’ for many of our long-term employees. Functions like on-the-go changes, markups and mobility are attributes we look at in new software, as well as user-friendliness and how can we remove the lengthy paper process and make things easier for those in the office [and] in the field,” Wheeler said.

“Software like Procore is highly beneficial when it comes to project management, especially on the general contractor side. It essentially is a ‘hub’ for all trades to coordinate. The GC can post and track all drawings, submittals, RFIs, etc., all in one place. Subcontractors are also allowed to provide their suppliers a login so that they can also upload any needed items,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler also uses such applications as Bluebeam that help his foremen complete tasks that were harder with other software.

“The keys to benefiting from an asset- management software is having a dedicated person to oversee and manage the program and having everyone on board,” Wheeler said. “If a company has a consistent 20-plus projects going on like we do and multiple PMs managing those projects, it is essential to have their superintendents and them dedicated to utilizing that software, or failure will be the result.

“We need to emphasize the importance of the preconstruction phase, and McCormick software has made the estimating and takeoff process as painless and easy as possible. This saves us a large amount of time on each estimate. Every project begins at estimation, and this software give us a variety of options to track and manage those projects as they go. We can easily track an estimate compared to the actual project financials and labor hours,” he said.

Today, technology often dominates as it changes, and Wheeler realizes that he must change how he uses technology to grow his business efficiently.

“It is essential that we find these software programs and adapt to the ever-changing process of construction. Having the low bid is no longer based on material and labor costs alone, but the ability to benefit and save those costs from the use of these software programs,” Wheeler said.

Ferguson Electric Construction Co., Buffalo, N.Y.

Project manager Charles Watson said Ferguson Electric uses its computer system to reduce and organize the vast amounts of pertinent information for electricians into a single Fieldwire job, but typically it needs to be supplemented with a Dropbox folder structure for drawing documents using Fieldwire.

“We have many large jobs each year that require multiple electrical foremen, and, with Fieldwire, we share with them in real-time specifications, drawings, data and project management information so they always have the most up-to-date information,” Watson said.

“We are beginning to use Milwaukee’s One-Key software and Ticks [tags that are attached to assets] that link a -Bluetooth-enabled device to users’ phones and provides location feedback to the database. This software backs up our list of asset locations by double-checking actual location. This is primarily used to track which tools are at what job locations, and there is the benefit on large job sites of knowing where a tool was last seen,” Watson said.

Commonwealth Electric Co. of the Midwest, Lincoln, Neb.

Commonwealth Vice President Matt Firestone said it is important that software developers listen to end-users.

“Not every contractor uses the same methods for estimating, project management, accounting, etc., but we all use the same or similar software,” Firestone said.  “What makes one software product better over others is when it is customizable to fit within company processes. Software [helps] us do our job better and more efficiently [and it is] another tool in our toolbox to make us more profitable.

“Recently, we implemented the use of McCormick’s DEP [Design Estimating Pro] software into our estimating process, which allows us to load the digital drawing files in to the estimating system and then do our takeoff as an overlay on the plans, which at the same time enters the quantities to price and labor to formulate estimates,” he said.

The company is seeing increased efficiency with this software. Initial test runs showed an increased efficiency of 20% over Commonwealth’s traditional estimating process. Then, once it used DEP for takeoffs, the company is seeing nearly a 40% increase in the efficiency of the estimators.

Commonwealth’s Phoenix branch manager Bob Phillips said project managers also use the estimating program as a tool in their duties managing construction of the projects.

“One of the first things that is done when a project is awarded is set up the project in the progress-reporting system eCMS. Utilizing the export feature, the PMs can export the estimate data for labor hours by the categories needed in the progress reporting system such as branch rough-in, feeder rough-in, etc. They also are able to generate material lists for specific areas of a project or a specific floor. This has been useful for projects with congested job sites where materials need to be delivered as needed due to the lack of storage space on the site,” Phillips said.

Firestone said asset-management software enables Commonwealth to better track locations of various tools and equipment.

“This, in turn, allows us to charge the cost and maintenance of these items to the correct jobs. Another benefit of asset-management software is that it can help stay on top of routine maintenance and repairs for the tools and equipment. Money can’t be made from broken equipment sitting at the shop.

“The biggest thing to remember with any software program is that it isn’t any smarter than the person using it. We still have to get the right information into the system to get usable information out of it,” Firestone said.

Oklahoma Electrical Supply Co., Oklahoma City, Okla.

Tim Sardis, manager of construction, said software available to electrical contractors, if used properly, helps maintain up-to-date records and allows immediate access to all the applicable project files, from safety to RFIs, submittals, drawings, change orders and more, all at one site.

“An example is a University of Oklahoma Medical Adult Tower project where we used Procore to provide all current and old drawings for comparison,” Sardis said. “We can easily track changes and open RFIs as well. Since this is a design-assist project, there are hundreds of RFIs, and it is essential to easily access them all, whether they are open or closed. It also provides all information for all team members to see, making communications more consistent.

“What is needed in the construction industry is more of a focus on efficiency in document control and distribution. The construction industry has adopted lean construction practices regarding the actual construction schedule and functions—what is needed is to apply this same type of thinking and ideas to the management of the projects as well.” Sardis said.

E-J Electric Installation Co., Long Island City, N.Y.

Anthony Mann, president and chief executive officer of E-J Electric, said software programs are an essential part of the company’s success, but it is essential to define processes and doing the internal research to get a handle on what actually is needed.

“Investing in a software solution is not going to magically make things run better, you need to engage all of processes to be successful,” Mann said. 

E-J is using a variety of software to accomplish company goals.

For project management, Procore keeps project documentation up to date, including drawings, submittals, RFIs and progress photos, which reduces the issue of building off outdated documents.

Riskcast gives foremen and field staff the ability to document everything happening on a project every day. Daily time, production quantities, daily logs and employee certifications are the core of the software. McCormick’s software is used for all estimates and also live-screen takeoffs to eliminate printing paper drawings.

“Projects with big footprints show an instant value from the use of the right software,” Mann said. “Instead of forepersons having to carry around sets of printed drawings or having to go back to a shanty 10 floors down to get information, they now have access to all of it on a tablet. Applying the right technology to business will result in an overall culture shift, and other efficiencies will organically happen throughout the company.”

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Learning Deeply
Learning Deeply aconstanza Fri, 09/20/2019 - 14:51

Learning Deeply

Artificial intelligence (AI), deep learning and machine learning are now common buzzwords used across numerous disciplines and vertical markets. But what’s the reality as far as its current applicability in physical security? According to the experts, we’re entering into the realm of providing real-world applications and generating pertinent data that assists with higher levels of security and safety.

“AI and deep learning as it applies to the security industry is a platform for analytics. Fundamentally, the technology is about making analytics more accurate, capable and powerful,” said Oliver Philippou, research manager, Security Technology, IHS Markit, London.

He said one of the key opportunities for deep learning is video surveillance and the ability to recognize and identify images.

“Currently, AI and deep learning falls into several primary categories, including vehicle recognition, facial recognition, behavior recognition, object recognition and video search and synopsis. Let’s say you are looking for a person of interest who drove on a particular road in the afternoon. If you know the car is blue and traveled down that road, it can instantly filter the video to get the images you are looking for.”

On school campuses and airports, cameras with analytics and AI can identify a suspicious package and alert authorities in real time. Retail stores can leverage analytics to prevent potential loss or fraud and personalize the consumer marketing experience from data gleaned from store visits. Smart video for municipalities assists in transit or citywide operations, bringing greater situational awareness. With more cameras being installed and video streams watched, AI uses self-learning video analytics that automatically identify potential issues, so operation center personnel can pinpoint actual alerts or events quickly and proactively.

The speed of development of AI has propelled its adoption, particularly in the case of deep-learning algorithms in the video surveillance market, according to the white paper “AI in Physical Security,” produced by the Security Industry Association, Silver Spring, Md., in partnership with IHS Markit.

Today’s deep-learning analytics, the report states, offer benefits in accuracy and power:

“The ability of deep-learning algorithms to view a scene intuitively as a human would means that detection accuracy increases dramatically. Also, as computer power continues to increase, neural networks will leverage this to process more data and improve accuracy, which is an important development for the video analytics industry”

In addition, a combination of more powerful GPUs and the ability for analytics to automatically detect, recognize and classify objects has made video searchable, the report states.

“The AI-driven algorithms utilizing deep learning techniques are already there as far as capabilities,” said A.J. Frazer, vice president, business development for Agent Vi, New York. “The next challenge is how to build the data and compute infrastructure to support these complex algorithms. Deep learning requires a lot of data and levels of GPU computing that our industry is not yet used to.”

Unlike other technologies and software tools, AI depends heavily on specialized processors. To meet the complex demands, manufacturers are creating specialized chips. A growing trend of AI is putting the “smarts and parts” in the cameras, but one of the downsides has been thermal issues or heating that results in choppiness, which is a hardware limitation. This thermal-heavy processing has been a limiting factor in implementation, but new chipsets and processes—such as CVflow computer-vision architecture that provides lower power processing developed by Ambarella, Santa Clara, Calif.—are overcoming these limitations.

Frazer said Agent Vi’s open architecture video-analytics solution, as a cloud-hosted software as a service, can handle the data and computing challenge of AI. The company’s innoVi solution uses deep-learning techniques that are trained on real-world surveillance and not stock footage, which allows for an extremely high level of accuracy. Agent Vi was the security industry’s first video analytics software company to commercially deploy advanced deep learning solutions.

AI-driven video analytics can be trained to detect bicycles and motorcycles, so that alerts are issued when a motorcycle is seen on a bike path, and it can detect and alert sanitation services to overflowing dumpsters for streamlining trash removal.

“In the cloud, data is easy to share and computer resources can be turned up as needed,” Frazer said. In addition to smart cities and other large installations, AI can be purposed beyond security, for traffic monitoring, waste management and other services.”

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Know Your Goal: Are You Selling Fire Alarm Systems Or Fire Protection?
Know Your Goal: Are You Selling Fire Alarm Systems Or Fire Protection? aconstanza Fri, 09/20/2019 - 14:51

Know Your Goal: Are You Selling Fire Alarm Systems Or Fire Protection?

How do you sell fire alarm and emergency communications systems and services? If you have been doing something for a while without any change, it might be time to examine that process and whether it still works, is relevant or could be done better.

I believe the way you sell now, you bid to meet a specification or you bid to meet the code. In the first instance, you had no design input and assumed the owner explained to the engineer what the fire protection goals were, and the engineer designed accordingly. You take the position that what the engineer laid out is all you should bid on, and you simply you perform a takeoff from the plans to create the list of equipment needed. You provide the list of equipment to one or two fire alarm systems equipment suppliers, and unless you choose not to review their bids in detail, you use the lowest bidder for your installation quote to the owner. You, of course, based your installation quote on the list of equipment from your takeoff.

Let’s assume that this is a potential new client. If you approached the bid in this way, then you have not differentiated yourself to the owner, and he or she will inevitably judge your bid against others based on price. And when you find out you lost to another contractor whose bid was higher than yours, you scratch your head and wonder what happened.

The first mistake you made was assuming the engineer had asked the owner what his or her fire protection goals were. You also assumed that the design was code-compliant. What difference does this make in the grand scheme of bidding on systems? If the design is incorrect and does not meet the requirements, you will get the opportunity to submit, and charge for the change. Additionally, if the owner is not happy with the design, that becomes the engineer’s problem and not yours, right?

As I suggested, it might be time to reexamine your current sales process. For example, what if through self-exploration, you determined that the engineer made some clear errors in the design. You also know for a fact that the local authority having jurisdiction will not approve the installation if you follow that design. You know this because you took the time to get to know the AHJ and what he or she looks for in a quality and code-compliant installation.

Your first option is to discuss the issues with the engineer. Again, if you differentiate yourself to the engineer, you will probably be asked to work with him or her again. After all, if you save the grief of being responsible for the delayed occupancy permit becaues of fire alarm system design errors, the engineer should be grateful and impressed with your attention to detail. You may even get called in during the design stage of a future project, which will give you the opportunity to be better prepared for when the project is out for bids.

Sometimes you deal directly with owners. When you have these opportunities, it will benefit you if you start off differently than previously. What do you do if the owner states he only wants to meet the code? In that case, review his operational plans. You know that he’s not a fire alarm system expert nor aware of the AHJ requirements. In fact, he does not even know what questions to ask.

Armed with this knowledge, take the time to explain why you think simply designing the system to meet code is not the right approach. In other words, sell fire protection. Make sure these owners understand you are trying to ensure their project meets their overall goals, not to line your pockets. Moreover, this approach will ensure the approval of the AHJ the first time the system is acceptance-tested.

You win because some owners have multiple buildings or multiple existing systems that they want you to replace. So ask them about their false alarm experiences. Typically, they have probably suffered through false alarms, tenants being upset at the interruptions in their activities, or, worse, the owner has lost real dollars with business interruptions or had trouble getting workers to refocus on their work after responding to false alarms. Additionally, the AHJ can fine owners for false alarms.

Determining what the owner’s hot buttons are helps you sell a better fire alarm system. If the existing system did not meet the code, you can show again why your bid merits a more serious look. This discussion may also lead to opportunities to “audit” the other fire alarm systems the owner may oversee. This approach takes a little extra time but most owners, like the previous engineer example, will begin to look at you as a trusted adviser rather than just another money grabber.

Ask owners about other systems they may be upgrading. This questioning could lead to upgrading the fire alarm system to an in-building fire emergency voice/alarm communications systems (EVACS). With that change, launch a discussion regarding mass notification system (MNSs). You can explain that the loudspeakers used for the EVACS system can serve and also be used for the MNS.

Can other processes be re-evaluated or perform better? Sure. In the sales process, you are always attempting to position yourself as the best choice for owners to use for all their systems work. This is a good time to determine if you want to offer additional systems that will complement, or be integrated into, the fire alarm system.

For example, you may want to offer access control or security systems. If you do not feel comfortable performing that work, then seriously look at collaborating with a contractor who can perform that work as a subcontractor to you. Or reverse the process and collaborate with sound and communications contractors who may be installing a public address system that could be integrated with your work.

Selling your services must be evaluated given the current changes in technology and the code. In addition, you want to sell all your services to every potential customer. You should be able to service what you sell and, assuming you do, then you should be writing service contracts before the installation is finished. Maybe you offer to extend the customer’s normal one-year warranty for your systems installation to two years and include a two-year testing contract. This technique will cost you very little, especially if you use reliable equipment and perform a quality installation.

The bottom line is that now might be a good time to examine your sales process to determine what still works or if you should make changes. Someone once told me that if you rest, you rust. Don’t rest on your sales process without revaluation regularly. After all, increases in sales lead to increased profits and growth.

That’s the real bottom line!

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Utilities Go in New Directions: Underground Report
Utilities Go in New Directions: Underground Report aconstanza Fri, 09/20/2019 - 14:51

Utilities Go in New Directions: Underground Report

Horizontal directional drilling (HDD) has become an important construction option for installing underground electric distribution cable.

A relatively compact drilling machine can quickly drill a precisely-guided pilot hole, then pull conduit to hold cable back through the hole. HDD limits excavation, avoids cutting across streets and landscaped areas and greatly reduces the amount of restoration required after an installation is complete.

The first directional drilling equipment small enough for utility work was introduced in the late 1980s, but HDD rigs weren’t seen regularly on job sites until the early ‘90s.

HDD was used to install underground electric distribution cables in the early stage of the technology’s emergence.

In fact, among the first compact drilling machines sold in the state of Georgia were purchased specifically to replace old and failing power distribution cable.

The construction manager of electric co-op Cobb EMC, Marietta, convinced management that the new technology, properly implemented, could make underground installations at less cost than conventional excavation construction. A key factor was reduced restoration costs.

That was a bold statement at a time when many considered the machines a novel experiment, and drillmakers were busy conducting demonstrations to convince utilities and contractors that the technology was viable for utility construction.

Cobb’s machines were early Ditch Witch Jet Trac models.

“Their power source was separate from the drill carriage and connected with a tether,” said Dennis Crowe, one of the Ditch Witch demonstrators.

“The drill frame could be rolled around by one crew member. Tracking equipment hadn’t been developed yet, so we used a utility locator to monitor location and depth. Steering required knowing the orientation of the face on the drill bit, and we marked each piece of drill pipe to indicate its orientation and made steering adjustments from that information.”

Compact directional drilling equipment can bore under streets, lawns and other surface obstacles.
Compact directional drilling equipment can bore under streets, lawns and other surface obstacles.

Obviously, equipment and guidance systems have evolved significantly.

Cobb EMC, one of the largest electric membership organizations in the nation, continues to take advantage of horizontal directional drilling.

“HDD has allowed us to upgrade our infrastructure in older developments without having an impact to our members’ property or a disruption in providing service to these members,” said Alex Newsome, Cobb EMC director of line maintenance and service operations. “We use HDD in situations where we are upgrading aging electric cable and in new construction where there are limitations in digging due to landscaped or paved areas.”

Newsome said Cobb EMC currently has three HDD crews and uses several contractors to perform directional drilling work.

In Virginia, directional drilling plays an important part in Dominion Energy’s Strategic Underground Program (SUP).

“SUP is a system-wide initiative in Virginia to shorten restoration times following major storms by placing certain outage-prone overhead electrical distribution lines and equipment underground,” said Alan Bradshaw, Dominion’s SUP director.

A data-driven process is used to select which overhead tap lines to convert to underground. The process begins with a review of 10 years of outage data for each tap line. The data is used to develop an “events per mile” metric to ensure selection of tap lines that will have the greatest impact for the lowest cost.

“We utilize directional boring almost exclusively with SUP as opposed to open trenching, and it has been key to customer acceptance and willingness to install underground lines in their area,” he said. “SUP projects serve established properties where customers have installed sheds or built fences and planted gardens. The ability to safely install facilities using a trenchless technology allows for minimal impact on established properties.”

For other construction, Bradshaw said most cable installations for new service typically are trenched, HDD is utilized in most instances where established properties must be traversed.

Dominion has five contractors assigned to seven geographic areas throughout its Virginia service territory.

“Each contractor provides design, right-of-way and construction services. While they are installing new underground facilities, they also are securing easements and completing designs for future work. They build their own backlog and, in many ways, are responsible for their own success,” Bradshaw said.

Discussing the economics of HDD, Bradshaw noted that prices have dropped while an increasing number of utilities use directional drilling.

“There are savings associated with not having to work around above- and below-ground obstacles,” he said. “Certainly there are responsibilities around identifying below ground facilities with both trenching and HDD, but being able to go under those facilities versus working around them is a huge benefit. Also not having to maneuver equipment around in tight spaces as frequently is a cost- and time-saver. And most importantly is being able to minimize disruptions on customer’s properties. For Dominion Energy, this is essential to the sustainability of SUP.”

Customer response is “overwhelmingly” positive.

“We recognized early on that respecting personal property was important to our customers,” Bradshaw said. “Although directional drilling is less invasive, it is still a construction project and customers will still see dirt. When our cable crosses other existing underground utilities, we pothole to expose underground utilities. Under the Code of Virginia’s Underground Utility Damage Prevention Act, potholing is used to ensure there is enough clearance to safely install the new underground cable.”

Disturbed surfaces are carefully restored.

“We have a commitment to leave private property as good as we found it,” he said.

Dominion Energy had been successful using directional drilling in all portions of its service territory, Bradshaw said.

“In Virginia, we have very different geographic terrain—from sandy soils on the East Coast to the rocky terrain in the Blue Ridge Mountains. In all instances and in any terrain, directional drilling is able to perform and safely install cable,” he said.

In Oklahoma, Edmond Electric is a municipal-owned electric utility that also has a history with horizontal directional drilling.

In 2002, the company initiated a program to replace overhead cable downed by an ice storm with underground cable with HDD equipment completing much of the work.

Currently in Edmond Electric’s five-year plan and budget, locations are identified where aging overhead lines will be replaced underground, said Dean Sherrick, distribution superintendent.

Remote display at an operator station shows big face orientation and other information needed to guide the pilot bore.
Remote display at an operator station shows big face orientation and other information needed to guide the pilot bore. 

“HDD is most often used in established, landscaped residential yards, underneath roadways, and areas where surface disturbance needs to be minimized,” Sherrick said. “Directional drilling still is more expensive than trenching, but the customer satisfaction and not having to follow-up with landscaping seem to offset each other. Customers are more satisfied with construction that does not have to be followed with new landscaping.”

Directional-drilling work is awarded to contractors through competitive bidding.

“Our in-house crews, work closely with the contractors to ensure proper installation depths and minimal surface damage is achieved," Sherrick said. "We inspect the work to be performed, and we have the option to have the contractors install the cable in conduit or install the cable ourselves. We have also recently started using cable in conduit (CIC) as a way to shorten the duration a project may take, which seems to balance the cost/satisfaction out in the long run.”

Located adjacent to Oklahoma City, Edmond Electric services 83,000 customers.

Michigan’s largest energy provider, Consumers Energy, employs directional drilling in many situations.

“For electric distribution, we use directional drilling under roads, parking lots, county drains, and situations where we are trying to preserve the aesthetics of customers’ property,” said Keith Kurdziel, distribution standards and materials senior engineer. "An example is replacing an existing failed underground service under a landscaped, well-manicured lawn. We also use HDD in situations where we are unable to trench, such as hills and wetlands.”

Consumers Energy subcontracts its HDD work. Kurdziel said many subcontractors use 22,000-lb. pullback machines. Subcontractors like this machine because it fits through customer fences and works most of the time for up to 6-inch bore shots. They also have smaller units such as those with 11,000-lb. pullback force. Depending on soil conditions and size of conduit they may use 40,0000 or 50,000-lb. pullback machines.

One of the primary reasons for using HDD, Kurdziel added, is worker safety by minimizing the risk of trenching into unknown underground facilities and in areas such as hillsides where it is unsafe to use conventional trenching equipment. It also must be used where municipalities or the Michigan Department of Transportation require boring for crossing under roads.

Costs for directional drilling typically are more expensive than trenching, Kurdziel said. However, there are circumstances where boring is less expensive when considering all factors such as property restoration. It’s also true that in some cases, HDD is the only option.

Kurdziel said the use of directional drilling has increased in the past several years, and he expects that trend to continue.

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A horizontal directional drill underground.


Protecting People from ESD
Protecting People from ESD aconstanza Fri, 09/20/2019 - 14:51

Protecting People from ESD

For the past few national electrical code cycles, there has been a growing concern in the electrical industry with a phenomenon called electric shock drowning (ESD) occurring in and around marinas, boatyards, floating buildings, fixed or floating piers, wharves, docks and similar areas. Recognizing that swimming in and around these areas is common, especially where people occupy and live in the boats and watercraft, the NEC and the electrical industry started investigating electrical hazards in these areas.

Electrical leakage current in fresh or salt water can inhibit or incapacitate muscle reactions of individuals swimming in the water with severe consequences. With this understanding, the electrical industry and other interested parties started studying and addressing this very serious issue. The following information chronicles the effort to address ESD.

The U.S. Coast Guard, the NFPA Fire Protection Research Foundation, the American Boat and Yacht Council and Foundation, UL, NEMA, Attwood Marine, Eaton Corp., Hubbell, Intertek and Leviton Manufacturing sponsored a study to help address ESD. With help from the International Association of Electrical Inspectors, NECA and other electrical industry members, the groups teamed up to gather data, map potential electrical fields in and around water (both fresh and salt water) and create swimming accident scenarios to determine possible solutions to the ESD phenomenon. The study identified many concerns, such as the harsh environmental conditions that result in the deterioration of the electrical components and installations in and around water as well as the electrical current and voltage potential magnitude in fresh and salt water. The industry study resulted in a report issued in November 2014 prepared by John Adey with the ABYC Foundation and Bill Daley and Ryan Kelly of CED Technologies for the NFPA Fire Protection Research Foundation.

The NFPA research foundation report overview states, “ESD begins with an electric fault on the dock or on board a boat when a voltage source comes into contact with the body of water. The voltage radiates throughout the water in a hemispherical field. As a swimmer approaches the electric field, electrical current begins to flow through their body. The human body has a much lower resistance than fresh water and is the better conductor of electricity. In the presence of an electric field, the human body, not the surrounding fresh water, conducts the majority of the electric current. As little as 10 milliamperes [mA] of current through the human body can cause loss of muscular control, which may result in drowning.

“The victim may not be exposed to the stray voltage field upon initially entering the water. This leads the victim to believe the water is safe for swimming until they unintentionally enter the voltage field and become shocked. Further, the voltage source may be intermittent as a function of when a particular AC device is automatically or manually cycled on or off, or when a fault is intermittent in nature. Although ESD has been mostly observed in fresh water, the incidence of ESD in brackish water cannot be ignored, since the conductivity varies based on the numerous environmental conditions.”

The study determined the human body in fresh water was more affected because it has more conductivity due to salt in the body. The same human body in salt water was not exposed to the same amount of shock hazard because of the salt in the environment.

In the 2011 NEC , Section 555.3 was added to require the main power supply to the marina or boatyard to have a service main ground-fault protective device not to exceed 100 mA. This device would limit the potential voltage and current supplying boats, watercraft and houseboats at the service main where the power originated.

Where installing a 100 mA at the service main was not feasible for any reason, this ground-fault protection requirement could be installed at each individual feeder or branch circuit supplying the watercraft. Ground-fault protection of equipment usually applies to the protection of equipment; however, the purpose of this 100 mA or smaller ground-fault device was to try and limit the leakage current in the water.

Two major changes have occurred in the 2017 NEC in Article 555, dealing with the safety requirements in marinas and boatyards. The first is in 555.3, where the 100 mA ground-fault protective main device was changed to not exceed 30 mA, thus making it more responsive to electric leakage. Section 555.24 was added to require swimming areas to have signage that states “WARNING—POTENTIAL SHOCK HAZARD—ELECTRIC CURRENTS MAY BE PRESENT IN THE WATER.” Look for more changes in the 2020 NEC .

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