Modular Office System Offers Flexibility and Fosters Faculty Member Collaboration

As noted by Arlyn S. Powell, Jr. in the May 1999 issue of Cabling Installation and Maintenance, the open office has emerged as one of the major problems facing the communications cabling industry. Work areas are being designed on the modular concept with movable partitions that can be changed at will to accommodate new tasks. But each move, add or change (MAC) in workstation floor plans can require substantial and costly MACs for the cabling infrastructure supporting power, telephones, network computing, e-mail, printers and other intelligent peripherals.

As noted by Arlyn S. Powell, Jr. in the May 1999 issue of Cabling Installation and Maintenance, the open office has emerged as one of the major problems facing the communications cabling industry. Work areas are being designed on the modular concept with movable partitions that can be changed at will to accommodate new tasks. But each move, add or change (MAC) in workstation floor plans can require substantial and costly MACs for the cabling infrastructure supporting power, telephones, network computing, e-mail, printers and other intelligent peripherals.

The Elgin Experience

These concerns were very much on the mind of Elgin, Ill., school district officials as we embarked on a plan to upgrade work areas for faculty members. Plans called for dedicated areas where teachers of like curricula can meet and interact, yet have their own private workstations equipped to access internal and external information resources.

The first task was a complete upgrade of each school’s cabling infrastructure. We looked for a solution based on the industry standards for category 5e cabling to support Ethernet LANs (local area networks). Each faculty member’s work area was to be equipped with high-speed access to the Internet and the district’s own information resources, with a phone line and ample power supplies.

Like most of the nation’s school districts, Elgin is growing, meaning a like growth in the faculty and its need to access information resources. This called for a flexible system that allows office configurations to easily adapt to expanding requirements. For this reason, we decided on modular office furniture. At first, our plan was to separate the cabling project upgrade from furniture procurement. That changed when our vendor, Larson Equipment & Furniture Company, introduced us to a solution that incorporated TSB75-compliant cabling in a high quality, economically priced, modular furniture system.

Larson’s Jim Pease said that until recently, the modular office furniture industry has either ignored or inadequately addressed the tremendous influx of technology into the workplace. He explained that many systems on the market today have cable management capabilities based on the way offices were designed 10 or 20 years ago. The result is that wiring and cabling quickly become unmanageable. Because of this, MACs are not only costly, they can result in damaged cabling systems and substandard network performance.

Cable Management

The furniture we decided on is called MACsys. It is the result of a partnership between Design Resource Group International (DRG), Carlstadt, N.J., and The Siemon Company in Watertown, Conn. MACsys takes its name from the MACs it accommodates through a straightforward plug-and-play design. According to DRG’s president Mark Bassil, it is the first system on the market that fully complies with all current horizontal-cabling standards, including TSB75. The Siemon Company, established in 1903, is a leading manufacturer of telecommunications cabling systems and connecting hardware.

The voice, data and power cable management capabilities of this design were particularly attractive to the Elgin school district, especially when coupled with a very competitive price. We were familiar with the significant costs that are incurred when MACs are made to accommodate new personnel or department expansion. Indeed, for four years our local cabling contractor had a second shift dedicated to these activities. Now, instead of rerouting or installing new cables from a telecommunications closet to the work area, a technician can access the pre-installed service loops of cable slack built into the panels and reroute from that point. This eases the installation of added work areas and decreases the cost and time spent on additional installations.

The MACsys design incorporates a series of interconnect brackets mounted directly within furniture panels. These brackets can be configured in various port sizes and can accommodate either a Consolidation Point (CP) supporting a zoned infrastructure, or a Multi User Telecommunications Outlet Assembly (MuTOA) type of architecture. Cabling interconnections are concealed behind removable panel covers to provide a neat appearance while allowing convenient access. Ample space is also provided for cable service loops to support future relocation efforts.

The Elgin project uses a zoned cabling design. Horizontal cabling is extended from work area outlets to consolidation points — the interconnect brackets located within panels that make up the workstation clusters in each faculty office area. The CPs, in turn, interconnect with the school’s horizontal voice and data cabling infrastructure within telecommunications closets. The unique "plug and play" design is so simple it can be quickly mastered, meaning that school maintenance personnel can handle in very short order the MACs that previously required hours or days by trained technicians. This means significantly lower operating costs over the lifetime of the installation.

Conclusion

The Elgin School District project provided 397 workstations in 34 faculty rooms at three high schools. Each workstation is cabled with one Category 5e cable for Ethernet to provide high-speed data access and one Category 3 cable for phone service. These cables terminate in interconnect bracket consolidation points mounted in the furniture panels. Each consolidation point services four to 12 workstations.

The facilities themselves have proven to be a hit with faculty as a place to interact with their curricula peers and as a dedicated private office from which to conduct school business. Financially it has been a smart move as well, with top tier design and construction at a very economical price. Perhaps most importantly, as the inevitable MACs mount up, the cost of accommodating them will remain low.

Richard Long
Director of Business Services
School District U-46, Elgin, Ill.


 

Contact Information:

DRG International
www.drginternational.com

Larson Equipment & Furniture,
Palatine, IL.
(847) 705-0460

The Siemon Company
www.siemon.com

This article originally appeared in the 02/01/2000 issue of THE Journal.

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