This piece was originally published in the July 2018 issue of electroindustry.
Marjorie Romeyn-Sanabria, Communication Specialist, IDEA
Ms. Romeyn-Sanabria is a former journalist, commentator, and editor. This is her first year in the electrical industry.
Propelled by energy efficiency and smart buildings stocked with Internet of Things (IoT) equipment, the new influx of product data is transforming the electrical supply chain. It is shifting from a conventional network of relationships that depend on product knowledge and years of industry experience to a collaborative effort where product data is a universal language and linchpin, enabling innovation in design, aesthetics, technology, and sustainability.
As demand increases for energy-efficient buildings equipped with materials that are both high-performance and visually captivating, the supply chain must continue to adapt. To keep pace with both the external trends and the sheer amount of digital information that informs product selection, dependence on digital product information is increasing, which enhances already existing relationships and forms new ones.
This trend is rippling throughout the supply chain as architects, interior designers, and contractors pursue energy-efficient standards. Energy-efficient buildings not only are good for the environment but also pay for themselves and yield higher rents per square foot.
In the Beginning: Digitization
Without accurate data that is ready at a moment’s notice, the supply chain would collapse.
“Relationships between material suppliers, manufacturers, and distributors remain largely the same as in the past,” explained Daniel Abbate, NEMA Industry Director of Building Infrastructure. “The difference is that digital monitoring and automation have changed the way they do business and the speed at which they do so. For example, companies can make better estimates on how many materials and products to purchase, using just-in-time ordering and processing to a large degree. Things happen much faster these days. Now a company can order just enough material for the exact amount of product, saving time and money.”
But digitization in the supply chain is no longer enough. Mr. Abbate mentioned that NEMA’s High Performance Buildings Council is advocating constructing more buildings and making sure they adhere to local energy-efficiency guidelines. Increased output will put pressure on the supply chain to deliver products on time, requiring both more variety of products and more of the products themselves.
High Performance and Aesthetics
Energy-efficient buildings demand specificity that the channel in its current form can supply only with digital capabilities. As the trend in the electrical industry pushes the supply chain to produce buildings with greater performance capability, state and federal governments are leading the charge.
In 2003, the federal government established the National 3D-4D-BIM program, which allows the General Services Administration (GSA) to more effectively meet requirements for design, construction, and asset management.
Although these policies are more than a decade old, states are following suit and demanding more sustainability in commercial and residential buildings. Earlier this year, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo released an ambitious list of energy-efficiency guidelines to reduce carbon footprints and reduce commercial and residential buildings’ energy consumption by 185 trillion BTUs (British thermal units) by 2025.
These new demands surface when it comes to overhauling a building to meet energy-efficiency standards like LEED and ENERGY STAR®. Buildings everywhere, particularly commercial spaces, now must meet the simultaneous demand of looking good and being good for the environment.
Product Specs Crucial to Visual Appeal
Products are becoming increasingly more complex and diverse both between “behind the wall” (technical and code requirements) and “in front of the wall” (design).
“It used to be that most electrical products were behind the wall, and specifications for safety and the National Electrical Code® were the primary attributes that electrical contractors needed to determine what can be installed,” said IDEA President and CEO Paul Molitor.
“People are now seeking more information about in front of the wall, the aesthetics and design of products. They’re looking for photos from multiple angles, 3D imaging, and other key product information as they’re making a product selection,” he said.
Behind-the-wall characteristics like power usage are essential when people want to achieve something with their building, whether that’s efficiency or connectedness. Digital product information flowing throughout the supply chain delivers that necessary information for high-performance buildings.
According to Mr. Molitor, these trends are expanding product data’s role. Digital product information powers electronic data interchange transactions between manufacturers, distributors and, in many cases, end users. Now electronic product information is visible and searchable. Customers are using the published attributes, photos, spec sheets, and warranties to identify products to buy and install.
To meet the new demands of high design, specific online product data available on a moment’s notice is no longer a luxury. It is a necessity to more people, such as interior designers, who are instrumental in product selection.
Patrick Hughes, NEMA Senior Government Relations Director, expanded on why aesthetics of products is becoming more necessary.
“The aesthetics of products has always been important for interior designers. As a result, some NEMA Members differentiate their products based on aesthetics in addition to performance,” Mr. Hughes said.
“On the energy-efficiency side, that is something that is increasing in importance. Product information on the energy and efficiency of a product is something that people are looking at when specifying lighting systems, transformers—really anything in a building that consumes electricity. This is especially important if they’re trying to increase their ENERGY STAR or LEED score.”
New trends are forcing the supply chain to open up to new opportunities that include creativity and innovation. Product data is a conduit to energy-efficient buildings, especially as the number of available products grows exponentially. A contractor must interpret an architect’s vision; a contractor must understand how it applies to the end user; and a distributor who knows the product must get it from the manufacturer. To connect the dots between architect, contractor, distributor, and end user, product data that possesses vital marketing information is critical.
Sustainability and meeting energy-efficiency standards will soon become the norm just as digitization in the supply chain is. The addition of design will push supply chains beyond their traditional roles and into two separate and distinct parts: behind the wall and in front of the wall.
Both pieces are equally important and depend on each other to create a building that is energy efficient, visually appealing, and structurally sound. Product data is the language that not only enhances relationships along the supply chain but also ensures the electroindustry can meet the challenges of trends and developing technology.
The Industry Data Exchange Association, Inc. (IDEA) is the official technology service provider and eBusiness standards body of the electrical industry. IDEA was founded in 1998 through a partnership rooted in the collective leadership of NEMA and the National Association of Electrical Distributors (NAED). Learn more at www.idea-esolutions.com.
 LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a third-party certification program developed by the U.S. Green Building Council
 ENERGY STAR is a voluntary program managed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy