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How can the choice of switchgear affect your projects? Prime Electrical executive director Mohammad Ali Momin stresses the safety issues that must be considered during procurement.


How can the choice of switchgear affect your projects? Prime Electrical executive director Mohammad Ali Momin stresses the safety issues that must be considered during procurement.

What products and services does Prime Electrical offer?

Prime Electrical Manufacturing is a low voltage (lv) switchgear and distribution equipment manufacturer. It is an authorised dealer for German-based Siemens and undertakes pure distribution, intelligent distribution and pure control and automation works.

The product range includes lv switchgear up to 6,300A, electrical switchboards, distribution boards, capacitor banks, customised enclosures and pre-fabricated substations. We are also automation and Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA) system designers and panel builders.

In what areas of the Middle East does the firm operate?

Prime Electrical started in this region in 2005. At that time we had five [staff members] and were based in Al Quoz. We moved to Dubai Investment Park in October 2006 and now have around 50 staff, including three engineers and 40 trained technicians.

From the Dubai facility we serve almost all the GCC countries, plus some African countries. The UAE is our biggest market due to the amount of work underway.

Does the firm have any plans for expansion?

Our plan is to go into high voltage (hv) switchgear and other areas such as sheet metal manufacture.

We are in the process of constructing a second manufacturing facility in Dubai Industrial City. This 30,000m2 facility will enable us to expand our services in the UAE and overseas. It is being constructed by our own parent firm Prime Contracting and we should be moving in there in mid-2009.

What are the biggest issues in the region in terms of electrical switchgear safety?

The first thing is that it's a price-driven market and that's the reason that development is so fast. People are going for cheaper items without looking into their quality. The main problem [with this] is that if you sacrifice something it will give very bad consequences. If it fails there is a big danger of fire or that somebody may die.

The main business here is carried out in Dollars and the Euro has gone up considerably, so estimated costs can be quite different from the actual costs and [project teams] have to make sacrifices somewhere.

Consultants are often under a lot of pressure from clients and contractors to reduce the costs; they are thinking of the short term, but in the long-term if something goes wrong for the client then it's a big loss. That's the main problem with going for a cheaper electrical solution.

The second issue is that civil and architectural consultants don't give enough space for electrical equipment to be installed. They want to fill the space [with lettable areas] but rooms need to be sealed properly, properly ventilated and proper access is required. Dubai is very strict at providing this space and the proper segregation and access in case of emergency, but other Emirates are not.

Why is the problem of poor quality products existing occurring?

The reason is the supply and demand ratio - it's too big now and the gap between this is growing very large, so a lot of small manufacturers have sprung up and a lot of these companies are not being run by professional guys who know what the real engineering [involved in] electrical systems is and that is the main issue. They don't care about designing things as per the international safety standards.

It's getting worse - we are finding that since the cost of other commodities and equipment is going up, the prices [of electrical switchgear] in the market are going down, because of the number of smaller firms that are forcing lower prices [by cutting costs in the manufacturing process].

What types of projects are being affected?

All types, sometimes even the big ones. There may be a beautiful five-star hotel and if you look into the construction costs the electrical costs plus switchgear accounts for maybe 10% of the total costs, but to save a cost of 1% [some firms] are sacrificing a big amount of money later.

If [the switchgear] trips then maybe the full building will trip and there will be shut down - this is the better scenario; the worse scenario is that something gets short-circuited and there will be a fire.

What legislation should be being followed?

All the authorities in the UAE have different standards, but ultimately they follow the international IEC standards. But the implementation is not that strong, [inspectors] make checks but we find that they are sometimes not trained enough.

They check what is required, but they cannot always differentiate between a good and a bad brand because there are now a lot of fakes in the market due to the price structure and it is impossible for a human being to immediately identify what is a fake without testing it.

The important thing is the assembly should be type-tested and certified by third-party testing. This is compulsory in Abu Dhabi but not necessary in other areas. In Abu Dhabi they don't issue a supply certificate unless they see an ASTA certificate.

Dubai doesn't require the ASTA certification, but other restrictions and standards are in place. Anybody can supply into the majority of the other Emirates, there's no approved list of manufacturers.

What are the main safety issues with fakes?

There is the earth leakage circuit-breaker that is mainly used to protect human beings, if it is not genuine it will not function when it is required. By the time that it kicks in somebody will get a shock and could die - this is like a criminal offence.

Also, mcbs are needed to trip the circuit when there are any overloads, but if it is not of the correct nature or selected properly it may not trip and because of the temperature the wires may burn and will cause a fire - this is what's happening nowadays. I saw equipment burning for this reason when I was an inspection engineer.

How is the move to sustainable building affecting the selection of electrical equipment?

There's a lot of talk of green buildings, but again this can be quite short-sighted [in terms of electrical equipment]. People talk about home automation, but few people consider that the reason you have capacitor banks is to correct your power factor.

If you have the ideal power factor you will be utilising 100% of the power that you're providing to the building, but people still save on capacitor banks then spend money on putting home automation in to try and make their buildings greener.

The use of capacitor banks became law in the UAE in 1997 due to the closing gap between supply and demand.

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