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Opinion piece: Panel building should be streamlined for better efficiency, reliability, simplicity and timesaving for data centre projects

By Kovilan Chinnathambi, Product Manager at Schneider Electric

Data centres run critical applications and require equipment and infrastructure that operate at 100% uptime, as any downtime, due to faulty components, could have catastrophic ramifications.

By its very nature, a data centre’s operations go through continuous change, but the requirement for unwavering dependability and operational efficiency remains constant and non-negotiable.

Key components of data centres are electrical panels which provide power to the racks, servers and cooling infrastructure. These panels should therefore be high quality and type-tested to ensure safe and reliable operations’ as well as maximum power availability.

Panel builders working on data centre projects often face challenges that can be effectively mitigated through features that prioritise simplicity and seamless integration. They can significantly enhance their project outcomes by incorporating products designed to streamline implementation and deliver significant advantages.

One of the main challenges that panel builders have to overcome is to produce a board in the shortest possible time.  A standardised design enables them to not only meet this requirement but also reduce their labour time. Thus, a panel that is a complete system, has been fully type-tested and is a finalised design will lead to less ad hoc labour often required to complete the build.

Positive impact on productivity

Using a pre-configured electrical panel can have a positive impact on the productivity and efficiency of the setup process, as each mounting plate and front plate is designed to accommodate various circuit breakers. These plates come pre-punched and pre-drilled, reducing the panel builder’s labour time by not having to cut or drill to mount components and the mounting plate is also specifically designed to make it easy to assemble in the least amount of time.

Considering that downtime in a data centre setting, due to faulty equipment, can have severe implications, the endorsement and assurance of the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) are paramount for panel builders. With OEM solutions, the relationship and integration of the different components – from busbars to circuit breakers – is guaranteed.

The only way to guarantee uptime, reliability and safety is with a fully type-tested panel, where the panel is fitted with the same components that will be used to produce the board for end customers and has been tested in a laboratory. This means that the performance of the circuit breakers fitted to the panel is guaranteed and there will be no surprises if they operate in an environment that is within the limits of the product itself.

While a circuit breaker that is installed into a board and running at slightly elevated temperatures will not fail immediately, it will have a limited lifespan and is likely to fail prematurely. This not only speaks to the reliability factor but also comes back to the cost of ownership for the end user.

Flexible configuration and easy scalability

Equally important factors for panel builders to keep in mind are modularity and scalability, where the panel is designed with modular components, allowing for flexible configuration and easy scalability. This adaptability is especially key for data centres that often need to accommodate changing IT equipment and power requirements over time. With the modular system, end users are not tied to what they bought initially but can modify and extend the panels as their needs change over time.

Moreover, the integration of integrated circuit protection significantly improves the reliability of panels in data centres. These protective devices play a critical role in safeguarding sensitive equipment in data centres by preventing electrical overloads and short circuits. This, in turn, reduces the risk of downtime and damage, making it an essential component for the smooth functioning of data centres.

Ultimately, a digital switchboard with connected circuit breakers is the ideal solution for a data centre environment, as it allows the end user to monitor the electrical loads and pre-empt any potential trips or failures. This not only improves reliability but also provides load information from the board itself, enabling the optimisation of loads in the data centre and the reduction of energy consumption.

A properly designed panel can provide many advantages for panel builders working on data centre projects, not only in terms of enhanced reliability, safety and performance but also in terms of the total cost of ownership, scalability and modularity. Panel builders should thus choose a trusted OEM with a reputation for quality and safety, which is particularly crucial in data centres, where equipment failure can have severe consequences.

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