Wall Street banks will spend millions of dollars to improve transaction speeds by milliseconds. Industrial manufacturers (think auto, electronics, heavy equipment) spend millions and invest thousands of man-hours to improve productivity and reduce waste by a fraction of a percent. As an industry, are we putting forth enough effort and thought into improving the speed and reducing the waste on our installs?
How many installers leave 10 feet of extra speaker cable or Cat-6 wire at the end of each run during a pre-wire, when two to three feet would do? Does your company have a standard you’ve set to ensure you aren’t wasting seven feet on every run, losing hundreds of dollars on every pre-wire job?
How about the time spent terminating wire? Even something as simple as an F-connector or banana plug can be done faster and better with the right products and tools.
To improve your profits by being more efficient with cabling and termination there are three levers we can pull:
1.Speed – terminate faster
2.Reliability – fewer mistakes
3.Efficiency – reduce waste in terms of cable and in connectors
At CEDIA EXPO 2013 we saw a company called Planet Waves that makes many different connectors—from F-Connectors and RCA to banana plugs—that are faster and easier to terminate than you can imagine. Their banana plugs don’t require stripping of the speaker wire—just loosen the set-screw, insert the wire, tighten the set-screw, and you’re done. The tip of the screw punctures the wire jacket and makes the connection. The F-connector, RCA, and BNC connectors do require the use of Planet Waves proprietary coax cable, but it’s worth it for a secure, fast, and reliable connection. This is a unique system in that you don’t need to strip the wire and the connectors are held on with set-screws, not by crimping. Therefore if an error is made, the connector can be removed and re-used.
Let’s talk about things that you can do as a business to improve your speed, reliability, and efficiency on every job. During pre-wire, using pre-labeled wire or wire with lettering that can be used as a label is key. Many wire brands come with a series of letters in alphabetical order that you can circle or mark with a Sharpie to identify the wire as you start to pull it and then mark the same wire again before you cut it. That way you know which wire is which when you go back to make your connections during the final install phase. Use thinner, more flexible wire. Coax and structured wire is notoriously difficult to pull. Find brands that have more flexible wire. This is again where we like Planet Waves for coax—it’s thinner and more flexible. This is also helps make rack wire-management easier and more efficient.
When terminating wire, be consistent with your tools and connectors. A minute saved on each termination can save a few man-hours on a large job with hundreds of terminations to do. Use pre-terminated Cat-6 for all shorter runs. Only make your own Cat-6 for longer runs. And even then use punch-downs instead of plugs to speed the process and improve reliability and efficiency (reduce waste). Punch downs are easier to complete correctly the first time (more reliable) and the jack can be reused if you make a mistake and have to do it again (less waste). Reusable connectors will save you frustration, money and time; give them a shot wherever possible.
There are many solutions out there; Planet Waves is just the one we have chosen. They key is to do your research and make the choice that is right for your company and then make everyone in the company as proficient at it as possible. This goes for everything in the business, not just terminating cable, but programming remotes, running pre-wire, mounting TVs, installing speakers, etc.
You are never too small to improve efficiency and speed. You don’t have to spend millions like an auto company or Goldman Sachs, but you may need to spend a little bit in both time and money. However, you will be paid back in spades when jobs go faster and connections are more reliable.
+Todd Anthony Pumais president of The Source Home Theater Installation in New York City.