Panel builder: subcontractor or technical business partner?

Mr Alain LEBAS, from LEBAS SYSTEM, a french panel builder based on the north-east of France, has accepted to share with us his opinion about the place of panel builders among the different actors of the “electrical” world. What’s your own opinion ?

Panel builders are too often just subcontractors …

Very often panel builders are mostly playing a role of subcontractor with little influence on technical or commercial aspects; they are not close enough to consultants or architects.
However, our profession is key to handle the switchboard that is the “heart” and the “brain “of an electrical installation; and we deal with serious subjects safety (persons & goods) or industrial risks.

We have to enhance the credit and visibility of our profession by resisting whenever contractors try to optimize the costs and decrease end users comfort and usage features. Why this situation ?

First of all, if we look at ourselves, our profession is very individualistic, not organized; and we are individually not present enough to influence, to specify technical choices.
In addition, the major products manufacturers are making the market and habits evolve gradually:
– they come to our field of panel building, and sometimes with poor coordination with us, bringing some confusion
– They have made popular, at least in some countries, catalogues of prefabricated switchboards components and accessories, contributing to make the switchboards market more common place, and to decrease the added value of panel builder, at least for electrical distribution, because it is very different in automation!

How to make things change?

I strongly believe it will be through communication:
Making people understand the key notions like energy availability, continuity of service, preservation of the environment … with the global necessity of energy efficiency.
As again the switchboard is the “heart “of the installation, Investors and Owners should consider not only acquisition costs but also exploitation costs, all along the life of the installation; and they will listen to us!
We have the opportunity to appear as “the specialists ” in western Europe where the main investments today are in hospitals, infrastructures, internet data centers, all examples of critical sites demanding care about energy performance.
Of course we have to be able to occupy fully our scope of legitimacy on all the project life, starting from study & design to maintenance and tracking.
As a conclusion on this idea of communication, I insist that we need to know and communicate more with end users; communicate also with insurance companies that will be our allied to propose quality and safety; communicate with consultants and architects; and also with panel builder colleagues to make them think about the profession needs.

For all panelbuilders ?

Yes, panelbuilders even for small projects can take advantage of going upstream and understand end user customer concern and needs; it is always good to propose a critical analysis, to try to participate to the technical solution choice; all panel builders, being specialists, have something to say to the end user; and speaking with him of valuable technical features will increase your image and credit! You will be no more a simple execution subcontractor.



  • nice article Mr. Alain. PanelBuilders as experienced practiciners brings great add value to panel design and electrical safety. manufacturers are making the Panelbuilding practice looks for the amature eye less serious with ready kits for panels yet these kits can be very tricky because they are directed to the manufacturers own profit rather than customer’s best value. Panelbuilders need to contribute to endusers knowledge of their great value as an experienced advisor on what is really great and whats really commercial. equilibrium will always be the healthy outcome in normal conditions.

  • Mr Lebas,
    It is interesting to see that we as panelbuilders are all experiencing the same problems.
    We are at the bottom of the food chain and are not recognised for the abilities, skills, and experience we have. It is frustrating when we are kept out of the design process and only brought on board when it is too late. You are absolutley correct and we need to continue to make every effort to gain access to the end user and we see the maintenance and service offer as being an excellent route to do this.
    It is good to learn we are not alone with this problem.

    • You can also read the very detailed post Brendan has published, where he details the maintenance & service offer he has developed, and the benefits he got with this offer.

  • It must also be noted that the panelbuilder can also be the “specialist” in a niche market when a standard “off the shelf” enclosure will not fit a specific location. This is in many instances the case following a refurb etc. We must give credit to the designers who not only have to make the panel fit but also meet the technical specification etc.

Leave a Comment