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How to Win Jobs with MC Cable in Today's Market

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The shrinking construction market is squeezing contractors and electrical engineers on all fronts. Consider these labor force statistics:


• 150,000 electrical workers will retire between 2001 and 2010.

• The industry has been receiving fewer and fewer applicants for local apprenticeship programs. In fact, there are fewer than 12,000 apprentices currently enrolled nationwide.

• Forecasts predict a further decrease in labor force entrants, due to retiring workers and less interest in the manual labor trades. Those forecasts show an increase of 26.5 million workers in the 55 to 64 age group (close to retirement) from 2000 to 2020, with just three million more 25- to 54-year-olds in the labor force during the same time period.

 

The U.S. commercial construction market has declined since 2000 in overall square footage of work, although figures should rise in 2004 according to forecasts.



Electrical contracting firms averaged an 8-percent drop in sales from 2001 to 2002, and these contractors anticipate a continued decline in overall revenues for 2003. These sales figures are a sharp reversal for the companies surveyed — who previously reported an average increase of 7.25 percent from 2000 to 2001 and a whopping 27.7 percent increase from 1999 to 2000.

 

Electrical contractors who can adapt to these market influences will be well positioned to outlast the competition, win more bids and prosper in the long term.

Changing with the times


Today’s electrical contractors are often forced to bid on (and commit to) as much work as possible at slimmer margins. To maintain their profitability in this kind of business climate, they must complete work in shorter time frames so they can move on to the next job, as well as find ways to reduce overall material and labor costs.


Changing from “the ordinary,” or traditional, design and installation techniques will allow contractors an opportunity to do just that. Using metal clad (MC) cable instead of pipe and wire can enable them to work more quickly and cost-effectively, giving them the edge they need to win more bids.

 

1 Source: The Construction Labor Research Council
2 Source: Independent Electrical Contractors group
3 Source: The Aspen Institute
4 Source: FW Dodge
5 Source: Electrical Construction & Maintenance magazine
6 MC Data Reported Industry Shipments


Don’t be mislead

Many contractors, engineers and architects may not be aware that MC cable is readily available in a range of sizes (up to 750 kcmil) and many specialty construction types. Also, despite National Electrical Code® compliance, there are still many misconceptions about MC cable not being appropriate for a variety of applications, such as direct burial or as feeder cable, when in fact, NEC section 330.10 details MC cable as acceptable for those uses and many more, including:

• services, feeders
and branch circuits
• power, lighting, control and signal circuits
• indoors or outdoors
• where exposed or concealed
• direct buried where
identified for such use
• in cable tray
• in any raceway
• as open runs of cable
• as aerial cable on a messenger
• in hazardous locations as permitted
• in dry locations and embedded in plaster finish on brick or other
masonry (except in damp or wet
locations)
• in wet locations where the
insulated conductors are listed

All of these accepted applications make MC cable a viable alternative to traditional pipe-and-wire methods and offer an immediate competitive
advantage over pipe and wire.

Become more profitable and more competitive

Specify MC cable from the start of a design-build job — OR recommend it as an alternative to design-bid-build specifications — and you will realize substantial labor and installation savings versus pipe and wire — saving upwards of 50 percent on total installation cost. What’s more, you can finish jobs faster with MC cable, and move quickly on to the next job.

From the very start of bidding or project preparation, estimating MC cable is often easier and more precise than the alternative because there are fewer parts. It’s preassembled and flexible. There are also no restrictions to the number of bends that MC cable can have (unlike the 360-degree limit for pipe and wire).

Because MC cable can be installed right off the reel and fitted securely into bends, fewer tools, equipment and laborers are required, and those tools that are necessary are usually found on job sites anyway. The timeconsuming task of bending conduit and the equipment and capital expense needed to do so are eliminated. Finally, there’s much less scrap, which means less waste (cost), less to clean up, and more time to be saved at the tail-end of the job. (See comparison chart at right.)


When all of these time- and cost-saving factors are considered, bids should consistently come in under those that specify conduit and wire, and the chances for bid overruns are also minimized.


 

Overcome compressed deadlines and budgets


There is an old saying, “time is money,” and both are important to project owners who often have their own deadlines and accompanying pressures to contend with. Whether you recommend MC cable from the start, or suggest it as a substitution to specifications in design-bid-build situations, offering customers economical and efficient alternatives is a win-win for all involved. Contractors can offer savings to customers by coming in under budget, or can offer time-related efficiencies such as finishing a job ahead of schedule. Savings with MC cable will become apparent when project schedules are reduced, deadlines are more readily met, and there is less liability of unexpected overages.


Being in touch with customer needs and concerns is important when amending designs offered by architects or engineers. “Bucking the spec” can be a touchy area for electrical contractors. With the right information and savings calculations, you shouldn’t feel leery about proposing changes. If the changes are in the customer’s best interest, such as to avoid being over budget or missing deadlines, all involved should be pleased with the result.


Knowing when MC cable is an appropriate alternative is a value-added service that the customer will not soon forget. Taking the time to help customers understand the benefits of MC cable and related savings also helps to affirm that contractors know what’s best for the job. And because customer satisfaction is critical to gaining further business and project referrals, chances for steady project work are increased. Installing MC cable and saving critical time with fewer installation steps demonstrate immediate results and will continue to save labor hours well into the future.


Minimize liability


Your time is never your own. Your schedule is affected by other subcontractors’ schedules. With many different participants on the project, something going wrong is a likely result, typically requiring overtime labor hours. It’s often virtually impossible to catch up to the original schedule, even with overtime. In fact, a recent study found that the productivity of a typical crew after several months of 70-hour weeks is roughly equivalent to that same crew’s productivity in a 40-hour week.7 Therefore, those contractors that limit labor-hour exposure by installing MC cable versus pipe and wire will decrease their overall liability for labor overages and on-the-job mishaps.


 

MC cable solutions
Still not convinced? Need more specifics? The following charts show examples of possible applications, along with the corresponding NEC section(s) that governs the electrical regulations for each application and MC or AC types best suited for the job. An explanation of each MC and AC product follows the charts.
Typical MC: Typical MC construction is comprised of copper or aluminum conductors with an insulated grounding conductor. Aluminum or lightweight steel interlocking armor is applied over the assembly.
 

Special MC configurations


OSN (Oversized Neutral): Ideal for applications affected by harmonics, this generally consists of solid, soft drawn, copper Type THHN/THWN phase conductors, an oversized copper neutral conductor or one neutral per phase, and an insulated copper grounding conductor.


MC (Multicircuit): Designed for multiple circuits in branch, feeder and service power distribution for numerous applications, this is constructed of solid, soft drawn, copper Type THHN/THWN conductors and an insulated copper grounding circuit.


IG (Isolated Ground): For applications requiring redundant, dedicated or isolated grounding paths. It consists of Type THHN/THWN phase conductors, an insulated copper grounding conductor and an isolated grounding conductor.


JKT (Jacketed): For corrosion protection or when used in burial applications, outdoors or concrete parking decks, jacketed cable is most suitable. It is constructed of soft drawn, copper Type THHN/THWN conductors and an insulated copper grounding conductor. Conductors are cabled together with an overall binder tape, and aluminum interlocking armor is applied over the assembly with a flame-retardant jacket over the armor. Conductor color-coding may vary according to manufacturer.


AC copper solutions


AC (Armored Cable): Designed for dry locations at conductor temperatures not to exceed 90°C. Used in commercial, industrial, institutional and multifamily dwellings. It is constructed of solid, soft drawn, copper Type THHN conductors and bare copper grounding
conductor. Conductors are individually wrapped with moisture-resistant, flame-retardant paper covering. Aluminum interlocking armor is applied over the assembly with aluminum bond wireinside the armor running longitudinally in intimate contact with the armor for its entire length.


AC-HCF (Armored Cable — Hospital Care Facilities):
Designed for dry locations at conductor temperatures not to exceed 90°C. Used in patient care areas of hospitals, medical and other types of healthcare facilities other than hazardous anesthetizing locations. It is suitable for all locations where Type AC is permitted. It is constructed of solid, soft drawn, copper Type THHN conductors and a green insulated copper grounding conductor. Conductors are individually wrapped with moisture-resistant, flame-retardant paper covering. Aluminum interlocking armor is applied over the assembly with aluminum bond wire inside the armor running longitudinally in intimate contact with the armor for its entire length.


 

What about Engineers?

By Joe Salimando


The accompanying piece seems to suggest that electrical contractors steamroll pipe-and-wire designs in design-bid-build work. Aren’t those designs the work of qualified electrical engineers? Of course.


Are we, then, suggesting that contractors tread these people underfoot? No. One must consider the plight of construction engineers of all types today; a little understanding goes a long way. Here’s the situation:


Engineers have become commoditized. They are treated with little or no respect in the construction process. I learned this in 2000-01, as editor of American Consulting Engineer, a publication of what was then called the American Consulting Engineers Council (ACEC).


I was shocked to see a session on an ACEC program titled, “Good Things about Being a Commodity.” I learned that engineers were being treated worse than electrical contractors!

One basic element here is money. Electrical designers are chosen on price; expertise is a given (that’s the “commodity” angle).


 

Time has been condensed. Many older engineers lamented the fax machine’s advent; the Internet hasn’t improved things. Engineers in all specialties are expected to churn out drawings as quickly as possible. I am told that design time has been cut in half — or worse.


Design-build work eats into engineering opportunities. Needless to say, design-build jobs don’t offer engineers quite the same horizon as design-bid-build work does.

 

Expertise is disappearing. If you’ve read the preceding, it won’t be a surprise to learn that:
• experienced electrical engineers are leaving the profession;
• it’s not easy for firms to attract young engineers; and
• training (of the young by the experienced) is also suffering.


Adding it all up. Put together the elements above and you’ll comprehend the tough spot in which electrical engineers find themselves. There’s zero motivation for them to take extra time (which they don’t have) and invest additional resources (with tight dollars, they don’t have this either) to research in detail how a project can gain with specifications and designs that focus on installability, productivity, and reduced owner time liability.


You can’t blame an underpaid, time-constrained engineer for spec’ing a pipe-and-wire job. Instead of steamrollering that engineer, you might actually be grateful. The rotten deal for electrical engineers these days helps create opportunities for you — such as substituting MC cable.


Owners on the March

By Joe Salimando


Project developers and building owners are on the warpath. They use e-business. Their people have wireless LANs. They institute the latest management techniques.

 

And yet the way the construction industry works is not substantially different fromthe approach used by the folks who built the pyramids! Further, the number onecause of injury on a construction job site is something so-last-century as ... falls.


Owners want to see things move faster and safer; they want construction outcomes to be more predictable. A number of associations have formed or gained strength of late, such as the Construction Users Roundtable
(http://curt.construction.com/).


One result that electrical contractors of some size are starting to see is restricted bid lists and prequalifiers that knock out a large number of possible bidders. For example, some owners put safety requirements in bid qualifications that are quite restrictive. A contractor who wishes to bid must produce a copy of the company’s safety manual (it can’t be thin) — and introduce the person who is the full-time safety director.


In addition to safety, the savvy electrical contractor will factor the concept of offering creative, money- and timesaving substitutes and alternates. The productivity angle, the reduced-liability aspect, and the increased profitability outlined in the accompanying article are all important. But gaining ground with increasingly selective owners produces returns not just on the current job, but into the future.


We’re not suggesting that substituting MC cable for pipe-and-wire designs is the be-all and end-all in this process. However, it is a major step in the right direction — an easy lay-up, to use a basketball analogy. You’ll need to do a lot more.


But why not throw in that sure basket and score points with the owner as soon
as you can?

 


 

Joe Salimando, who served as editor (1979-83) and then publisher (1990-98) of Electrical Contractor magazine, is now an independent writer, market researcher and industry resource. He has written regularly in the past two years on the coming electrician shortage and the need for increased productivity.

 

 


This paper is provided by
Southwire, one of the world’s
leading wire and cabling
manufacturers, and North
America’s largest buildingwire
producer. A full range of
MC cable is readily available
at Southwire in all sizes and
constructions, and all comply
with UL, NEC and other federal
standards. The company’s
product line also includes
copper and aluminum building
wire, industrial power cable,
flexible power cord, utility
products, and copper and
aluminum rod.