When it comes to cable management, customer feedback is sadly lacking, argues Brian Pigott

How many electrical companies introduce products that they think the contractors want to install? Most decisions appear to be made by marketing teams that have never set foot in a Cat 6 installation. By basing the design of future product ranges on installer feedback, contractors would be much better served.

With cable management, there have been some very welcome step changes over the generations. First, we had round and oval conduit, then mini trunking. Next came three-compartment trunking, to carry telecoms, power and data.

More recently, we have had the Cat 6 trunking solutions. Design in this arena has gone from functional (cover the cables, for safety reasons) to aesthetic (half-round trunking), which primarily continue to cover cables for safety reasons.

During any of these stages, were installers involved in the design of the product? Not really. If they were, then we, the manufacturers, would not have made them push miles of relatively flimsy cable through narrow conduits.

We would not force them to remove all the electrical, data and phone fittings from a run of Cat 6 trunking, just so they could add a new ring main to that office or building.

And yet, main containment manufacturers are guilty of those sins against the installer. Why? Because the groups that discover solutions to problems they think installers encounter have never attached a single piece of trunking to a wall.

They have never pulled 80 m of Cat 6 cable through a 20 mm hole in the compartment wall of the Cat 6 trunking, where the wall could not be cut because it formed part of the aesthetically pleasing front of a trunking case.

They have never had to follow that with another 40, 50, or 60 similar cables, through the same hole, to populate an office with datacomms outlets.

What about cable containment in industrial environments? Until the mid-1990s, installers were forced to use metal cable trays. These were heavy and cumbersome to handle, and were often installed at great height, which adds to the danger.

The groups that discover solutions to problems they think installers encounter have never attached a single piece of trunking to a wall

They also had to be cut to size, leaving sharp edges. Bends, risers, T-junctions and reducers had to be planned for and purchased, stored and then installed separately.

In 1995, Ian MacGregor introduced and aggressively promoted wire-mesh cable tray to the UK market. This system significantly changed how installers approached the job. They simply needed comparatively light lengths of wire-mesh tray, a bolt cropper and some couplers.

All angles, bends, T-junctions and reducers can be fabricated on site, without the need to buy expensive prefabricated parts from the manufacturer. This reduced the cost of the installation (less stocking units) and the time taken.

More importantly, it reduced the need to use dangerous equipment, such as angle grinders, and the associated health and safety dangers. MacGregor has so much faith in the system that he has since become the UK’s largest manufacturer of wire-mesh tray at Anglesey-based Marco Cable Management.

Happily, there are a small number of containment makers that believe products can be practical first and foremost, while adding to the aesthetics of a building. They design products with pre-punched bases to allow fast-fixing to walls. The installer can even use a nail gun to do the job.

They design products with lift-off lids, and easy access to all the compartments at all stages of the installation. They design fast products that work faultlessly first time.

And it’s easy to get it right. Think of the poor guy having to work with the product on site. In containment, to paraphrase Bill Clinton, only one customer matters – “the installer, stupid”.

What contractors really want

A recent survey consulted a number of Cat 6 cabling installers to find out what they were really looking for in cable management. The assumption was that price and availability are key drivers for contractors, but there is an increasing emphasis on labour cost, and speed of installation.

The results of the consultation are now manifesting in product ranges that genuinely make the job much easier to complete. Better access to trunking for both power and communication cabling, top-opening lids that allow cables to be easily placed in situ and a more rigid base that allows the fast and simple fitting of lids.

These are simple innovations that remove frustrations for contractors while conforming to European Union standards for bend radii and cable separation.