Brett Smyth from global electrical manufacturer, Ideal Industries, discusses the benefits of switching from terminal strips to lever or push-in connectors when installing electrical distribution networks.
This article was published in ECN Magazine in February 2020. To view the article in the magazine, please click here to access previous issues. Choose February and check out page 45-46.
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 hard won over years of contracting 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, both of which can deliver commercial advantages for the electrical contractor. Even small time savings on a single task can add up to a significant time and cost saving over the length of a full installation. What’s more, consistent quality not only reduces the risk of snagging and call backs; it could also enhance the success rate of bids for repeat work.
Installation of terminal strips 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
The electrical sector is not alone in being a profession where traditional ways of getting the job done are often a barrier to adopting new techniques for faster, more consistent approaches. Many trades across the construction sector have used proven methodologies passed down from one generation to the next, and there remains a tendency for specifiers to select products they know and trust rather than more modern and innovative alternatives.
With commodity items and routine tasks like the installation of terminal strips, however, the issue is not specifier led; the pace of change is driven by the habits and preferences of electricians. There is a tendency to remain loyal to the products and
installation techniques we used when we were trained and, despite working in a sector where continuous learning is integral to professional competence and compliance, this is just as true for electrical contractors as it is for any other industry, particularly when it comes to routine tasks like making connections.
As a manufacturer with significant research and development resources and the international reach required to adopt best practice innovation from around the world, Ideal Industries is always on the look out for better, faster and easier ways of carrying out electrical installations. However, we recognise that expecting experienced professionals to adapt habits that have been ingrained over decades is like asking someone to ditch the sugar in their tea overnight. That’s why we’re working with colleges to support training of the next generation of electricians using lever and push-in connectors, offering complimentary products so that they can practice using consumables that are faster, easier and more consistent.
We continue to believe, however, that there are benefits for more experienced electricians willing to make the switch. And, just like cutting the sugar from tea, it’s a switch that offers clear benefits and, once made, is unlikely to be reversed.
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 reduces labour costs over the length of the project. 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 or call backs.
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 benefit contractors: 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 property.
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. Ideal Industries’ Connectors even include 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.
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 speed and consistency of terminal strip installations grows with experience, connectors remove any margin for error, even for inexperienced electricians who are still training. 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. Ideal Industries is now introducing the In-Sure Gen 2 Lever Connector, a development that will make the use of connectors even easier and more cost-effective. Robust and well-designed at an attractive price point, our lever and push-in connectors offer a user-friendly, cost-effective and quality-led alternative to terminal strips.
As the electrical contracting sector continues to tackle the challenges of tighter programmes, skills shortages and stricter compliance, a switch from terminal strips to lever or push-in connectors could be one of the marginal gains that gives electricians a