There have been some exciting developments in the world of construction over the last few years.

From opportunities in green construction methods to incredible innovations in technology, we’re witnessing a new era in which more is now possible than ever before.

The electrical trade is seeing its fair share of developments when it comes to construction projects too – a few years ago, would you have thought that you could automatically take-off an entire project?

Let’s take a look at some of the best electrical innovations in construction:

Could augmented reality assist your work? Here are some possible applications

#1. 3D printing

When you think of any form of building construction, you usually picture armies of trade workers, there for every activity from pouring concrete to building framing. Is it possible that 3D printing may some day take their place?

New technology in the 3D printing space suggests that this may be a possible future. As an electrical contractor, if you were to turn up on site where a Protohouse 1.0 had just been printed off, you’d find that holes for wiring had already been incorporated into the design.

While this design may come off as strangely futuristic, its creators, Softkill Design took inspiration from the construction of bone to come up with something that would be structurally efficient for a 3D printer.

Source: Softkill Design

At the same time, there are other experiments in 3D printing happening worldwide, with housing being constructed using materials from concrete to potato starch. Here in the UK, the Crossrail’s new Elizabeth line stations are using large concrete panels made through 3D printing.

We don’t yet have the technology to construct buildings from foundation to fittings autonomously, nor do we have the regulations to allow it, but electrical contractors could find themselves using materials that have been made with a 3D printer. An example is the enclosures used for boards, as seen in this Element14 example. Look out for further advances as the experiments continue…

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#2. Hot solar cells

As the desire for the wiser use of resources and sustainable options widens, improvements are also being made to solar generation. The solar panel as we know it is relatively inefficient – it’s bulky, expensive and has limitations that make it only absorb a fraction of the potential energy it could.

Enter the hot solar cell.

These devices aren’t on the market yet. They’re an MIT invention which converts heat to focused beams of light for cheap, continuous power. This venture into thermophotovoltaics is something that researchers have been working on for years, but MIT is the first team to develop a solution which absorbs more energy than its photovoltaic cell alone.

Technology Review took a look at the hot solar cell here – while there are some disadvantages such as expensive components, the economics are expected to improve as efficiency climbs and as components are further tailored.

#3. Internet of things

“Smart” homes or the Internet of Things (IoT) are producing a host of innovations to keep electrical contractors busy. Whether it’s an older building in need of updating or construction on a new home, smart buildings need more robust wiring in order to cater to the various gadgets they use.

Contractors are required to install structured media panels and to consider how a building can be wired to future-proof it for as-yet unknown innovations. Research from Gartner indicates that the base of Internet of Things installed units will grow to 26 billion units by 2020, compared to 0.9 billion units in 2009. That’s an almost 30-fold increase and a good case for electrical construction with smart homes in mind.

#4. AXiO

The Electrical Industry Awards always provide us with a host of interesting finalists every year – this year includes AXiO, a new innovation from Aurora Lighting.

In further application of the Internet of Things, AXiO embeds IoT lines and allows retailers to collect data and communicate with in-store shoppers. This involves a set of lights with built-in sensors and bluetooth chips, which facilitate the data collection.

This extract from LEDs magazine explains Aurora’s plans:

“IoT-enabled lighting holds promise across different industries, but Aurora is focusing its initial AXiO efforts on retailers, who could use it to track and guide customers around stores, to offer discounts delivered to individual shoppers’ smartphones, and to collect data on customer behavior.”

#5. Manrose internal fit kits

Here’s another entry from the Electrical Industry Awards; you’ve probably known Manrose for years, but here they are recognised for innovating their extractor fan wall kits so that the whole thing can be fit internally.

This is a big deal for contractors, especially on large construction projects. Climbing ladders or putting up expensive scaffolding in order to install fans will no longer be necessary as each fan can be installed from the inside. You can have a look at the internal fit kit here.

#6. Augmented reality

Augmented reality is something that has taken off within many different industries. You may remember examples such as the Pokemon Go craze, the game which had people out searching for Pokemon, with the virtual creatures superimposed over a view of the real world through their phone screens.

In the electrical world, augmented reality is being used to help contractors and customers see exactly how a product will look in or around a building before committing to installing it. The Stiebel Eltron augmented reality app was another awards finalist and can create a 3D model within any location.

Get our thoughts on possible applications for augmented reality here

#7. Power over ethernet (POE) lighting

The adoption of LED lighting has increased significantly over the last decade, but one innovation that is quite incredible for the industry is POE lighting. This is LED lighting systems which are powered over ethernet cables, which also make them smart – a perfect tie-in for Internet of Things technology.

Here are some quick benefits from Larson Electronics:

“The advantages of using PoE to power LED lights are numerous. First, less wiring is required during installations. As a result, less time and funds are needed to complete installations. Without the limitations of wiring, PoE systems can reach sections of the building without adequate access to power. This also makes installation in such places easier, allowing flexibility in catering to different types of mounting configurations.”

POE connections are essential for smart networks because they allow for the controlling, measuring and monitoring of data that is required. Control of the lights can also be done remotely, through an app or software program.

#8. Fluke T6-1000

The Fluke T6-1000 allows contractors to measure up to 1000 volts AC, without test leads, just by measuring through the open fork (DC must still be measured with test leads).

This means that you no longer need to make contact with live voltage, open any covers or remove any wire nuts. The idea is that it should make your job safer, easier and faster. While there are still tasks for which you’ll need leads (phase to phase and phase to neutral testing), it does open safer avenues for quick testing or troubleshooting large AC circuits.

There are many more innovations we could have mentioned and it’s great to see so many advances that promote safety, efficiency, environmental sustainability and better collection and use of data.

As we progress with technology, many of the tasks we used to do manually are being handled with apps or tools. We don’t think the role of the onsite contractor will be disappearing any time soon, but hopefully it can be made more efficient.