A few months ago, we had the opportunity to gather together a group of electrical professionals to speak their minds and vent their frustrations on the industry in general and some critical points in particular. The group represented a goodcross-section of the industry's participants: Electrical contractors, consulting electrical engineers, and electrical facility maintenance people. Here are the items topping their wish list.

Better manufacturer service. The group said they wanted manufacturers to deliver 24-hour service, not just lip service from a salesperson. Nothing irritated them more than a smartly dressed salesperson showing up but unable to respond to a problem because he or she did not have the authority and/or knowledge.

According to Gerald Hefferly, P.E., Chief Electrical Engineer and Senior Vice President of Store, Matakovich & Wolfberg, El Monte, Calif., "We're seeing less and less good representation from the manufacturers at the design end. I'd like to tell manufacturers that they need to be more aware of the real world. Right now, they're kind of removed from things and, often times, I believe they're looking at the end user through the jaundiced eyes of those in the sales department, who don't go into the field. They're not getting in the trenches, getting their hands dirty. They're not seeing the problems."

According to Mike Jordan, former Assistant Electrical Supervisor for Mobil Oil in Torrance, Calif., "The industry also suffers from what I call the Fortune 500 syndrome: Manufacturers become so large they act like a bunch of little independent companies. Manufacturers are not really addressing the customer's needs until the customer raises so much hell, the squeaky wheel gets the grease."

Per Jim Kelly of J.M. Kelly Electric, Van Nuys, Calif., "Our biggest hassle seems to be manufacturer deliveries and inventory levels. In order to provide good service and fast response to our customers, we need to have inventory and products immediately. But, all the inventory is in Chicago or somewhere in the Midwest. Manufacturers all have these zone warehouses now and, to get the stuff fast, they have to UPS Red or FedEx the stuff to us."

Better working drawings. The group also cited an all-to-familiar problem: poor working drawings. No other problem seems to incite more emotion than this one. It pits the contractor against the consultant; however, both parties suffer from this industry-wide problem.

According to Gordon Adler, Project Executive for Morrow-Meadows Corp., an electrical contractor in Walnut, Calif., "We electrical contractors rely on consultants and designers to answer our questions, and we try to do the best job we can for them."

Peter Corselli, Engineering Manager for U.S. Growers Cold Storage, Inc., Los Angeles, Calif., believes that the end user should be involved in a project from the very beginning. "If you have an end user involved with all facets of the project, you end up with a much higher quality end piece. And, hopefully, after they move into the building, you don't end up with fingers pointing all over the place, which is a real nightmare to deal with."

Jim Kelly and his contracting company try to see the consultant's basic intent through the specification and design. "During the estimating process, we show consultants loopholes or problem areas that could result in change orders. Unfortunately, we end up losing the bid because we were forthright and honest. Our whole relationship with consultants is to try to request information and try to get our questions answered. Then if we're awarded the contract after that point, we make the changes together to make it work a little better in the field."

Iraj Boroumand, Section Manager of the Electrical and Instrumentation Sections at Ralph M. Parsons Co., Pasadena, Calif., cites a recent project that used a team approach. "Our client, Chevron, asked Bechtel, who was going to be the general contractor, to be present in our offices during the design phase. Bechtel actually commented on our drawings during the design phase from the 'constructability' to 'maintainability' points of view. This approach minimized surprises when the designs were complete and went out for bid. It also reduced the chances of miscommunications. Let's face it: Our drawings are our means of communication with the contractor. If the contractor is there from the very beginning to comment on these things, it minimizes surprises in the future."

Your comments on this roundtable discussion are most welcome.

In this month's issue of EC&M, we are introducing a brand new department called Solid-State Control Corner. Because more and more of the equipment we see and use today is electronic in nature, as opposed to electro-mechanical, there's an ever increasing need for troubleshooting and maintenance information on this equipment. In other words, the "little black box" needs detailed analysis. Our first topic is the programmable logic controller or PLC. We're sure you'll find this information useful and easy to understand. Your comments on this new department are appreciated.