NECA’s annual trade show and conferences always offer a good read on the new market opportunities for electrical contractors and on what’s happening with new product development in the electrical market.
The thousands of contractor- members of the National Electrical Contractors Association, Bethesda, MD, who attended the show this year in Las Vegas saw all sorts of new products exhibited by several hundred manufacturers, and had the chance to learn about new business opportunities and industry trends in the dozens of educational sessions.
The electrical contracting business is at an interesting crossroads right now. Business is good, and everyone is struggling to find enough help to keep pace. Along with all of the existing work, they now have the opportunity to train their personnel in some exciting market niches, including IoT-based control systems, renewables, energy storage, smart cities and other markets undergoing a digital transformation.
This year’s show seemed particularly busy, and I saw all sorts of evidence on the show floor and in the sessions about these opportunities for growth. Here are some trends I noticed in the exhibit hall and in the seminars.
IoT is everywhere. Not all that many years ago, it seemed like the Internet of Things (IoT) was a technology looking for an application. Now app-based control of virtually any electrical or electronic device with an IP (Internet Protocol) device is everywhere. It’s particularly common in the lighting controls market.
Electrical manufacturers have also harnessed IoT for applications using sensors that monitor workspaces, public spaces and dozens of indoor and outdoor applications where end users want to pull down data from the cloud on security, energy efficiency, environmental concerns and building automation applications. As Jim Phelan, national sales manager, Building IoT Solutions at Siemens, said in his NECA Show presentation, “Exceeding Customer Expectations with Smart Building IoT Solutions,” “With a mobile interface, data and insights are available anytime, anywhere.”
Work smart. In an always cyclical industry, electrical contractors must be ready for the darker days when work isn’t as plentiful. Anton Mikec, Lighthouse Electric, Canonsburg, PA, said in his NECA workshop, “Grow Your Business by Knowing Your Core Markets, “In today’s market we have to be cautious,” he said. “It’s easy to get sloppy. When times are good, tighten up operations so you are ready for when it slows down.”
Prefab products were everywhere. It was tough to count how many different companies were showcasing prefab products at NECA. Some of the prefabricated products that caught our eye were at the ABB, Arlington Industries, Caddy/NVent, Garvin Industries/Southwire, Legrand and Orbit Industries booths.
18V LED lighting systems. If these lighting systems catch on, they could revolutionize how electrical contractors install lighting. LEDs don’t need much power to operate and 18V wiring (often called “bell wire”) is super simple to install and terminate. ATX LED, Austin, TX, a first-time NECA exhibitor, had an intriguing display in its booth for its 18V LED system for residential applications.
Murray Freeman, the company’s CEO and founder, said in a NECA Techtopia session that ATX LED has installed its LED lighting in more than in dozen houses in Austin, with each residence having 60 or more LED fixtures. The LEDs can be wired in series, and a single driver can be located remotely and drive a group of fixtures, instead of having a driver in each LED lamp, as is the case with replacement LED lamps. This eliminates heat in the fixture, which has caused premature failure of some retrofit LED lamps.
If you have never attended NECA, give it a shot next year in Chicago, Oct. 3-6. You will get a better sense of what makes electrical contractors tick, and where you may be able to work with them on the new business opportunities that lie ahead.