We look at how raised flooring solutions continue to evolve along with technology and changing offices.

Raised flooring solutions continue to evolve as quickly as some of the office environments of our clients. As a building professional, you constantly need to stay up to date with the latest, most practical and efficient solutions for each industry. Your client’s industry, the application type as well as the cabling and wiring needs, all influence the type of raised floor you will specify.

A take on Wi-Fi

The Wi-Fi needs of clients seem to be part of the thought process when considering smart flooring solutions. In some cases, Wi-Fi networks reduce the amount of cabling within an office space. Wi-Fi solutions can only carry so much data, which means that access flooring and cable management still has an important role to play, even as technology evolves. There are also certain data security issues to keep in mind when it comes to Wi-Fi in the workplace.

According to an article by Netfloor USA, while Wi-Fi is convenient in many offices, it is a gap that hackers can easily exploit. It is for this reason that many companies, who are increasingly concerned with cybersecurity threats, opt for cabling systems instead of Wi-Fi networks. Access flooring gives clients the same unobstructed setup that they enjoy with Wi-Fi, but with fewer threats of cyber-attacks.

Some companies are already capitalising on the changing needs of office environments resulting from advances in technology. In April 2016, Wi-Fi and cellular company, Ventev, released a new technology that puts Wi-Fi antenna in a hidden raised floor area that is integrated into the existing flooring system. The solution was designed for hospitality, education and public venues where large groups of people need to access a Wi-Fi system. In a press release, the company said that their target market is companies who need more than basic Wi-Fi coverage but want the technology to blend inconspicuously into the workplace environment.

“Access to Wi-Fi used to be a nice-to-have amenity; now it is a requirement in every environment. Building engineers, developers and architects are challenged to provide aesthetically pleasing installations that ensure the coverage needed for Wi-Fi users,” said Ventev Vice President, Jeff Lime about the first-to-market, “bottom up” connectivity solution for raised-floor environments.

Risks and drawbacks of Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi operates in the unlicensed 2.4GHz spectrum. This spectrum is often crowded with other devices such as microwave ovens, cordless phones, Bluetooth devices and video sender devices, amongst others. This may cause decline in the performance of the signal.

Wi-Fi networks often have a limited range. Typical Wi-Fi routers vary between 45m indoors and approximately 90m outdoors. These are only estimates, as Wi-Fi is no exception to the physics of radio wave propagation with frequency band. This means that physical interference like walls and steel, which is found inside drywall installations, would impact negatively on the range of the signal.

Wired equivalent privacy or WEP, currently the most common wireless encryption standard, has been shown to be breakable even when correctly configured.

Access points could be used to obtain personal and confidential information transmitted from Wi-Fi consumers, making it a risk in confidential corporate environments.

Intervention of a closed or encrypted access point, with other open access points on the same or a nearby channel, can prevent access to the open access points by others in the area. This presents a challenge in high-density areas such as large office blocks where many employees are operating Wi-Fi access points.

Care should be taken when selecting the infrastructure as inter-operability issues between brands or deviations can cause limited connection or lower output speeds.

How access flooring is changing along with technology

As technology-driven facilities like data centres continue to grow and expand, access flooring solutions are sought on larger, grander scales. President of Exploringdotcom Inc., Dave Walens, told Cablinginstall.com that for many years the access flooring market stayed the same, but things are starting to change at a quicker pace.

“The raised floor has kind of gone full circle. It slowed down a little, but is getting more active again,” said Walens.

In data centres, access flooring offers effective consolidation of hardware ports as well as cooling benefits, seeing as it acts like a vent system underneath the floor that can direct cool air where it is needed.

“Raised-floor systems should be installed if a customer is bringing in or plans to bring in new technology, if they need to reconfigure their existing technology, or are uncertain of their future needs,” said Bill Reynolds, technical director for Tate Access Floors.

“Everyone has a desire to put services at a special location when they first do the installations, but they don’t know where services will be needed in the future, or what changes will have to be made to those configurations. You want a solution that will allow you to quickly move things about, add new technology, or swap things out at a low cost. If change is not an issue for you, or if you won’t have new technology coming, then this [raised flooring] is not the answer for you,” said Reynolds.

NOTEWORTHY INTERNATIONAL DESIGNS AND CONCEPTS

Union Pacific Corporation Headquarters
American transportation company Union Pacific Corporation built a US$260-million corporate headquarters building in Omaha, Nebraska. During the concept and planning phase, the company determined that the focus would be on creating a comfortable, healthy environment for the 4 000 employees that work from the facility.

According to Design Principal on the project, Bill Hartman from Gensler, such systems can boost employee satisfaction and performance at the workplace.

“Relevant studies have shown that underfloor air systems can lead to increased employee performance and a reduction in absenteeism. When the comfort of the underfloor air is considered along with other building features, we believe the character of Union Pacific’s new workplace to be among the world’s finest and most cost-effective,” said Hartman.

The 20-story glass building includes energy efficient access flooring solutions from Tate. Every 3m, a ‘swirl’ diffuser was installed within the floor so that employees are able to modify the ventilation levels to their preference. With an increasingly mobile and ever-changing workforce, the data and electrical systems of workstations can be reconfigured quickly and easily, thanks to the flooring.

Visteon Village
Visteon Corporation provides consumer-driven technology solutions to automotive manufacturers across the globe. The company’s new 74 322m2 innovation centre in Michigan was built according to the US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy Environmental Design (LEED) guidelines in order to emphasise energy efficiency and environmental sustainability. Hydrochlorofluorcarbon (HCFC)-free air handling units were combined with an underfloor air distribution system that allows employees to individually control the temperature and airflow at their workstations.

As companies become more complex and sophisticated, so do the flooring solutions available on the market. Understanding your clients’ goals and how their needs may change in the future will give you the information you need to specify a floor that serves their business and employees.

Thanks and acknowledgement are given to PentaFloor; www.flooring.work, www.netfloorusa.com, www.cablinginstall.com, and www.tateinc.com for the information contained in this article.