Access flooring panels create a well-hidden cavity for an unsightly abundance of cables, outlets and extension cords but also they need to provide easy access for IT maintenance, building maintenance and cleaning.
Access flooring manufacturers, contractors and installers are under increasing pressure to meet the demands of the fast-moving IT industry. Not only are they tasked with bringing a new lease of life with the renovation of older buildings, but they need to make sure that the solutions they provide will remain relevant and up to date with the ongoing technological revolution that many office environments need to plan for.
While most people initially tend to think of the computer centres and telephone lines that are kept out of the way thanks to access flooring, there are also a number of advantages that extend far beyond this primary application. Access flooring panels create a well-hidden cavity for an unsightly abundance of cables, outlets and extension cords but also they need to provide easy access for IT maintenance, building maintenance and cleaning. Access flooring also houses things such as water and drainage facilities, security solutions, electrical power as well as fire detection and suppression facilities.
The churn challenge
Churn is a major issue in today’s modern office environment (churn refers to the number of times that the office layout has to be modified to cater for changing requirements brought about by new technology, new personnel or new tenants to a building).
Access flooring makes it much easier for companies to adapt to a higher churn rate. “The trunking system of many access flooring solutions allows companies adapt without causing major disruptions to the occupants of the building,” says Bianca Shakinovsky, owner at Pentafloor. Square 3 Consultants was recently awarded the flooring contract for the FNB building in Namibia. 14 000m2 of the Solidfeel product was specified thanks to the fact that the client needed a reliable product that had a proven track record in the industry.
Jonathan Bates from Bates Access Flooring has been in the industry for 25 years and his company has installed several million square metres of access flooring. Bates explains that a product that his company often installs is the LF Type 1, 2 and 3 Multifunction Raised Access Floor System and the LF Universal Snap-on Stringer Raised access floor system.
“The LF Type 1, 2 and 3 Multifunction Raised Access Floor System and the LF Universal Snap-on Stringer Raised access floor system has been installed at a number of large developments. 52 000m2 was installed in Standard Bank in Baker Street, 16 200m2 was installed at the Telesure Head Office, 16 800m2 at TWP Melrose Arch, among many other developments,” comments Bates.
“The primary reason for the success of this product is its flexibility in high-churn environments. The multi-functional nature of the product is innovative as it is a positively locating system that is a freestanding, screw-down system and a stringer system all in one,” says Bates before adding that the product has been used for over 20 years.
The benefits of using a raised access floor
Some of the benefits of using raised access floors include being able to offer speculative tenants the flexibility they need for their offices or retail environments; giving designers the freedom to do the layout as they see fit; and quick and easy access to the ever-increasing volume of power, data and telecom services found within modern buildings. There are, however, a few alternatives to access flooring:
High-level trunking runs are above the ceiling and services drop down at the required locations through service poles. The disadvantage of this alternative is that maintenance and relocations are harder and may cause disruptions to the tenants of the building.
This method was common in the 1970s. Steel trunking is cast into the structural slab or topping screed along predefined runs. This option also doesn’t offer much in terms of flexibility to cater for future changes.
Skirting and Dado trunking
Steel or plastic trunking which runs around the perimeter of individual rooms. This alternative offers limited cable capacity and isn’t ideal for larger rooms and spaces.
Specialist furniture which encompasses in-built service runs. This option can be expensive.
What about cables in wall partitions?
John Gaillard, operations manager at CyberFloor, says the cable management method of installing cables and wires in walls simply doesn’t work in all types of applications. “The challenge is that you would have to line up the desks against the wall, which is a relatively old-fashioned way to design an office space. Most modern buildings are being built as low-rise buildings because designers know that this offers a much more efficient floor footprint,” says Gaillard, before mentioning that the FNB building in Johannesburg, for example, is only four levels.
“It creates a better working environment and team morale when people who work together are in close proximity to one another – this can’t always be achieved in high-rise buildings with multiple storeys. Access floors allow you to bring the right wiring to the exact workstation of each employee. You can also reconfigure the wires fairly easily if new employees join the team,” adds Gaillard.
Clint Hastings, Director at Peter Bates Flooring says that the Solidfeel access flooring system was installed at the Nedbank headquarters in Sandown, Johannesburg. “The first phase of the project included a 52 000m2 installation in 2001 and the second phase included a 37 000m2 installation in 2009,” says Hastings.
The system that was installed is called a Solidfeel Access Floor (it is now manufactured by Pentafloor but it is still branded as Solidfeel) with a freestanding support system with SF20 panels and a Snaploc Stringer support system with SF25 panels in order to house the patch, network and electrical rooms and data centre.
Clint is also currently managing the installation of the Solidfeel Freestanding system to the new 102 Rivonia Road project of 22 500m2 where many areas over beams and facade thresholds require access floor heights as low as 60mm. Clint has adapted the Solidfeel Low Loc screw down support system to achieve these low floor heights and believes that this makes it more adaptable for supporting over reinforcing beams and for use in older buildings where the limited clearance between the building floor levels can now accommodate an access floor installed at a floor height of 60mm upwards.
Blair Newman of Peter Bates Flooring has recently completed a first in SA using a Pentafloor FS2500 heavy duty panel rated at a Uniformly Distributed Load of 3 000kg/m2 for Eskom Simmerpan. This heavy duty panel allows UPS units and the Battery Racks to be supported directly onto the access floor as opposed to their own frames.
The Pentafloor system pedestal diameters are increased from 27mm to 45mm including enlarged bases plates for ultra heavy duty applications and for floor heights above 800mm. The Pentafloor access floor systems can therefore be successfully adapted for floor heights of 2400mm ideal for Data Centre Service Passages and construction of multi-level light weight Auditoriums says Hastings.
CyberFloor was also recently installed at the World Bank in Accra, Ghana. “The floor surface is 360m2 and the architects who specified CyberFloor were looking for a low-profile access floor that had to be around 50mm high due to the floor-to-ceiling heights. The building was already designed and the design team needed an access flooring system that could be retrofitted to the existing building without any weight issues. CyberFloor is easy to install as it is not fixed to the ground in any way, so it’s like laying Lego across the floor which made the installation process easy,” explains Adrian Gaillard from CyberFloor.
“This project was done with a great deal of pride and gratitude and much to the satisfaction of our client,” comments Goran Dimitrijevic, Purchasing Manager of Micheletti, the construction company that installed the flooring.
“In fact, the IFC Facilities Management and Administration Project Manager said at the completion celebration that, of the120 offices that the World Bank had worldwide, the building in Accra, Ghana, was the best out of all the offices,” adds Dimitrijevic.
Cable management: Why it needs to be more flexible than ever
“The reason why cable management needs to be more flexible than ever before is because nobody knows exactly where their company will be in five years’ time. The client’s company could merge, have to lay off staff or need to employ a large number of people, or they could start focusing on new products and services. Your flooring and cable management needs to be able to adapt to change,” says John Gaillard from Cyberfloor.
Some of the new trends in cable management relate to retrofit projects. An increasing number of buildings in the Middle East, Europe, the UK and Australia are busy giving their HVAC systems an overhaul so that the cabling runs underneath the flooring instead of in the ceiling (many of these buildings were constructed to have the heating and cooling in the ceiling).
“One of the reasons why heating and cooling in the ceiling is ineffective is that hot air rises and this hot air then needs to be redistributed on ground level for the occupants to feel its effect. Companies as well as facilities managers are realising that they could save a lot on electricity if their HVAC systems are in the floor,” says André Lammers from Square 3 Consultants.
Sub-dividing your access flooring space
Jaco Boshoff, Project Manager at Pentafloor, says that another trend is for large companies (such as financial institutions) to build larger server rooms in order to rent out space in these server rooms to different entities. “More and more companies are building big server rooms and data centres and leasing out space in these rooms to smaller companies that can’t necessarily afford their own server rooms,” says Boshoff.
The important thing with these large installations is to ensure there’s enough space underneath the floor for proper cable layering so that the services from different companies don’t clash. Basically, proper cable management boils down to planning and providing for changes in the future.
Jonathan Bates from Bates Access Flooring says that, in his experience, project managers don’t always know what the client’s cable management needs will be at the beginning of a project. “In my experience, cable management needs are only planned for at a later stage,” comments Bates.
“Cable management is definitely something that needs to be planned way ahead of time and with long-term goals in mind, because facilities keep on expanding. Ensuring the void underneath the raised access floor is high enough for future additions, cable racks and management systems will go a long way in helping out the facilities managers and IT technicians,” concludes Boshoff.
Acknowledgement and thanks are given to the following for information obtained for the compilation of this article: Clint Hastings of Peter Bates Flooring, www.peterbates.co.za; Jonathan Bates of Bates Access Flooring, www.batesaccessflooring.co.za; Jaco Boshoff and Bianca Shakinovsky of Pentafloor, www.pentafloor.co.za; John and Adrian Gaillard of CyberFloor, www.cyberfloor.net; and André Lammers of Square 3 Consultants, firstname.lastname@example.org.