Western Electrical Contractors Association, Inc.

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Extra, Extra! Read All About WECA HQ's Updated Low Voltage Lab!

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Low Volt Lab

WECA is committed to staying at the forefront of training for the low voltage industry, and recent upgrades to its apprenticeship labs in Rancho Cordova reflect that. These upgraded labs are optimized to produce apprentices that are well-versed in the latest integrated systems and applications. Furthermore, apprentices trained in the new labs should possess the requisite confidence and experience contractors are looking for in today's labor pool.

The updated lab space- triple the size of its previous iteration - features increased square footage and more student lab positions. What's more, the new layout will allow students to get more hands-on experience with established technologies such as fire alarms systems, security systems, and nurse call systems, as well as emerging technologies such as voice evacuation systems, very early smoke detection apparatuses, and open-area smoke imaging detection systems.
Fire Alarm Systems; Generic
  • 12 positions
  • Both conventional and addressable
  • Limited number of identical backboxes utilizing pluggable 120V primary power
  • Maintenance power switches at each station
  • Some "zone assignment" programming available to familiarize apprentices with "control-by-event" programming
  • Separate 24VDC power supplies also available to drive relays that are used for HVAC shutdown or elevator recall
Intrusion Systems (Burglar Alarms): Honeywell VISTA 20P
  • 8 positions
  • Common; typically found in schools or small businesses
  • These systems help to reinforce basic Ohm's Law principles, and to help apprentices differentiate between the wiring schemes for fire alarm systems and burglar alarm systems
Card Access Systems: ZKAccess
  • 8 positions
  • Can utilize either "stand-alone" or networked installations
  • Currently set up for a stand-alone installation, but still wired to allow for networking later
  • These systems require an understanding of how relays work to lock or unlock doors based on the credentials presented. This reinforces the concepts of electronic switches (relays).
Video surveillance system (CCTV): WBox CCTV Systems
  • 8 positions
  • ADI's store branded CCTV systems allow for an introduction to CCTV without overwhelming apprentices
  • WECA may install one pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) camera at each WECA location at a later date. Each camera would possess the ability to route the power and signal to each apprentice position.
  • WECA plans to install four sets of eight cameras on equipment racks at a later date. Longer wire runs will utilize permanent wiring that the apprentices can extend to each CCTV position. Shorter wire runs will be installed by apprentices.
  • Apprentices will be introduced to the unique terminology of video systems. While they will rarely be required to select specific camera formats and/or lenses, instructors will have the opportunity to describe how and why certain cameras and formats are selected for specific tasks.
Nurse Call/Area of Rescue Assistance Systems: Tek-Tone
  • 8 positions
  • Apprentices will work on lab exercises for the equipment,including the multiple small gauge wires used throughout the system
Very Early Smoke Detection Apparatus (VESDA); Brand TBD
  • Number of positions TBD
  • These systems are becoming common in computer rooms and "clean" rooms, thus we would like to purchase and install one or two of these systems to familiarize fire alarm technicians with them.
Open-area smoke imaging detection (OSIS); Brand TBD
  • Number of positions TBD
  • This is a fairly recent development in smoke detection technology. These are predominantly replacing projected beam detectors. These systems are also typically used in large, open areas, such as theaters, gymnasiums, and warehouses.
"There's really no comparison [to the old lab]", said WECA low volt instructor Steve Kappes. "[The old lab] comprised approximately 570 square feet, about the size of a one-car garage. The walls were lined with 16 fire alarm panels, with only half being used at any given time, and the ceiling was a maze of conduit and junction boxes connecting the panels to one another."

The redesign will also allow students to work simultaneously, utilize workbenches for tabletop applications, and store tools, parts and equipment in a locked storage area.
Kappes said that such a redesign was essential to students' continued success both in the classroom and on the job site.

"Most of our low voltage contractors deal primarily with either data systems (computer and telecommunications cabling and equipment) or fire alarms and other systems that would fall into the 'life safety' category", said Kappes. "As a consequence of that focus, our labs have been arranged and equipped to introduce our low voltage apprentices to these two primary areas of interest."

Thanks to Kappes' efforts, low volt apprentices will benefit from intensive - but supportive - learning in a lab with a variety of complex yet interoperable systems like the ones encountered in the field.

"The more exposure we give to our students in the relative safety of the classroom and lab, the more comfortable they will be out in the field approaching a new installation," said Kappes. "Most of our systems are very basic, simple systems. This way we can teach the fundamentals of systems before the students are out in the field confronting a complex piece of equipment they've never seen before."

But confidence isn't the only thing apprentices will gain, according to Kappes.

"The more diverse the equipment and installation techniques an apprentice is exposed to in the classroom, the more confident they are in their abilities to install a system they may be unfamiliar with. And the more confident they are, the more valuable they will be to a current or prospective employer," said Kappes.

Moving forward, Kappes hopes students will build upon the experience they've gained in the classroom and successfully apply it in the field.

"One of the keys to being successful is the ability, and willingness, to follow detailed instructions," said Kappes. "Most of the systems we deal with in the low voltage field employ some level of computer processing. The ability to work through a situation in a step-by-step, detailed manner is a huge advantage to a low voltage technician."

Kappes also reaffirmed WECA's commitment to staying one step ahead of the game by disclosing future expansion plans.

"We've created a world-class fire and life safety lab, and we'd now like to turn our attention to upgrading the existing voice-data-video (VDV) lab," said Kappes.

The expansion is necessary to accommodate anticipated larger class sizes, according to Kappes. Such an expansion would entail reconfiguring the lab from four positions to twelve, removing most of the rack and tool storage, and utilizing all four walls for increased lab positions. The expansion would also allow instructors to serve more students in smaller groups so that they receive the necessary hands-on practice most students need.

"[We also hope] to create a 'mock' server room or computer room, possibly incorporating a raised floor and multiple rows of equipment racks to familiarize students with the types of cable pulls they may encounter in the field," said Kappes.

To that end, Kappes stated that he and fellow instructor John Arias will contact WECA member contractors specializing in low voltage and data to gather input and ideas regarding how to best prepare apprentices for maximum productivity once they reach the field.

In the meantime, though, Kappes mused that "our industry continues to adopt technology as it becomes available and reliable. Our goal is to continually upgrade the labs - and the program in general - to stay relevant in the industry and [be] beneficial to our member contractors."