By Danny Lawless, ARK M&E Ltd.
In the UK under the City & Guilds (C&G) training schemes, electricians currently go through 3 – 4 years of theoretical and practical training. During this time, fundamental electrical understanding is taught along with fundamental practical training. This has been the approach for some time now, but there are questions as to whether it is still fully-applicable to today’s industry requirements.
With the sharp rise in the use of controls in most all projects, irrespective of their size or sector, should there be a more comprehensive understanding of controls and control protocols taught to budding electricians? Are the current training schemes adequate for what is common practice in everyday projects?
Training and current trends
Although the UK training scheme has adapted over the years to move with industrial trends, currently, there are no comprehensive controls lessons taught as part of the standard C&G curriculum. There are no detailed lessons on the types and requirements of different types of dimming, and no details on different heating systems and methods to control these other than for the standard ‘S Plan’ domestic set up (but without an actual core understanding of how it works). And despite the move towards passive homes, there are no lessons on blind control for solar shading, or how different motor types work.
Our industry is becoming much more environmentally-aware, and the importance of reducing energy consumption in buildings is increasing. The ways in which this can be achieved are many and varied, and include occupancy sensing, solar shading, dimming luminaires, harvesting daylight, correctly monitoring and controlling heating and cooling, recovering waste heat, storing heat, and allowing solar gain in winter months. For the electrician, knowledge about such controls and how they work is becoming essential.
KNX makes things much easier for the novice engineer
Whilst I am aware of other very capable systems, KNX is, in my opinion, the most versatile of them all. I am an unashamed advocate of KNX as it facilitates all of the aforementioned controls under one system, making it perfect for any engineer to learn. Indeed once the fundamentals of the control methodologies are understood, they can be applied to other types of system with little difficulty.
Current UK curriculum
Below is a typical outline of topics that are taught currently for an electrical installation qualification in the UK:
So where is the module for building controls and management? The above list was taken from a C&G-approved UK training provider, Trade Skills 4U. It must be noted that the training provider does not dictate what is taught, they only teach what is directed by the C&G governing body.
Surely teaching an electrician how to control systems that are used as standard should be a basic requirement. This does not mean having to undertake a full course in KNX or some proprietary system, but it should at least involve a fundamental understanding of control and how it is achieved. These principles can then be applied to almost all control systems using a variety of different control methods, be they:
• Conventional 230V control.
• Phase dimming.
• Analogue control.
• Digital dimming.
• AC and DC blinds.
• Heating and cooling control with PWN, PI, scaling, two-step.
• Different types of backbone; BUS, IP.
With a basic understanding of systems and their requirements, an electrician can apply that knowledge to any project or system in which they are involved.
Bringing C&G courses up to date and involving KNX
I would like to see the C&G change its curriculum to be more current by offering modules on the fundamental control requirements of lighting, heating and cooling as a minimum, because these are issues that an electrician will come across, irrespective of which sector they work in. The basic control theory should be taught in its fundamental form, but could be further boosted with some KNX theory and practice.
Indeed I would love to see C&G and KNX UK work together to bring this about. It would benefit our young electricians in so many ways, provide them with the core skills that are so desperately needed in our industry, and help to raise further the profile of KNX in the UK.
KNX as a system, covers virtually all control needs as it also offers gateways to most other systems that it doesn’t control as standard. This makes KNX the most versatile control system on the market.
Having an understanding of KNX at the initial training stages will aid any young trainee in learning, and, more importantly, understanding the fundamentals of control requirements, not to mention giving them a foot in the door of a proven control system with longevity.
Controls are a major part of the residential and commercial/public building industry, so the large governing bodies should be proactive in keeping up with current trends and developments. These changes should be implemented without delay, into the various courses, so that our young electricians receive the best quality training possible.
Whilst training in every possible variant of control that someone might come across is not possible, providing the electrician with a good grounding in the subject will set them up for any situation. There is no denying that controls are a fundamental requirement now, and will only continue to grow in importance.
Unfortunately,there is currently a hole where this training should be, so I would like to see the large control companies help training schemes and the governing bodies to fill this void. Let’s get KNX in the curriculum now. Let’s make it the number one control system in the UK as it is in Europe. Anyone involved in KNX knows it’s value, and knows it will only benefit the UK industry. After all, if you are taught a certain control system from the outset, you are likely to stick with it as you develop.
Danny Lawless is an Electrical Engineer and KNX Integrator for ARK M&E Ltd, part of the JRL Group.