Why hiring a single ELV designer makes no sense

I constantly encounter job advertisements where a construction design company is looking to hire a single ELV designer to handle all their ELV works. Well, for those familiar with the industry, this simply causes a bitter smile – since there is no such magic!

This wrong perception is mainly because of a simplified comparison of ELV designs with electrical designs (maybe due to the “Extremely Low Voltage” terminology)! However, unlike electrical designs, where an electrical designer can very much do all the principle LV designs that is required for a building, in ELV we’re dealing with a very broad range of diverse technologies including but not limited to data, telephony, CCTV, ACS (Access Control System), PAGA (Public Alert and General Alarm), Fire Alarm, IDS (Intrusion Detection System), television systems, audio / video solution, and home automation.

Expecting a single engineer being able to properly cover all these technologies is like referring to the same doctor as your Dentist, Allergist, Physiologist, Psychiatrist and Cardiologist!

What is the correct Solution?

Proper ELV design calls for a team of designers who cover all the needed expertise to enable them to provide an appropriate solution through combined effort and teamwork. The actual number of designers in the team and their expertise is of course dependent on the complexity and scale of the project. However even for smallest solutions, below are the key members of an ELV design team:

  • Team Leader: the Team Leader should have a good general knowledge of all technologies and the needed capabilities to lead the team and to make sure the provided design covers all the specified criteria.
  • Network Engineer: IP Networking is the foundation of any modern ELV design. Proper design of the network infrastructure is therefore the fundamental necessity to guarantee a successful solution.
  • Safety and Security Engineer: a good engineer with sufficient expertise and experience in designing safety and security solutions including CCTV, ACS and Fire Alarm is a key member of any ELV design team.
  • Audio / Video Engineer: audio / video solutions are another part of most ELV designs which have their totally separate field of expertise and hence an audio / video expert is a key member of any ELV design team.

Designing the proper ELV systems – a challenge in today’s construction industry

Contrary to what we used to have 20 years ago, it is now very hard to find a new structure where ELV solutions are not part of the core requirements for construction – whether the structure is a hotel, an airport, an office, or an industrial plant.

This is indeed a challenge for construction designers who are not well versed with the technology concepts of the ELV and all the fuzzy technical jargon that come with it.

ELV is an abbreviation for Extremely Low Voltage. This acronym falls short in explaining the exact content and is mostly misunderstood from an “electrical” perspective, rather than what it really represents.  ELV is actually a combination of data & telephony, safety & security, as well as automation technologies that are now an integral part of any modern structure in the 21st century.

While civil, electrical and sewage designs are considered to be integral disciplines of construction design and are normally done in-house by most EPC companies, design of ELV is more like a Pandora’s box to most experienced construction designers, and they prefer to have it totally handled by “someone else”!

When it comes to “ELV designers”, you can categorize them into 3 different groups:

  • The first group of ELV designers come from an “electrical” background: their work usually include some general block diagrams similar to one-line drawings one finds in electrical designs and totally lack the understanding of the diverse “technological” aspects of the different ELV systems.
  • The second group of ELV designers come from an “IT” background. Although this group understand the technological aspect of a proper ELV solution, they can’t communicate this very well in the language and the culture that is commonly known and used in the construction industry.
  • There is only a small group of ELV designers – the third group – who really master this new technology whose time has come. A combination of “electrical” and “IT/technological” knowhow necessary in order to properly design the ELV systems needed for this day and age.