Navigating The Supply Chain Crisis: Design For Impact

Electrical room switches.

Sam Fopma | September 20, 2023

In the last issue, Stan Spaulding, Director of Modular Solutions at Interstates, answered questions regarding the supply chain crisis and Interstates’ response to these challenges. That article got me thinking, how can we make choices and decisions during the design process that will impact the supply chain for projects to be executed? Below are a few suggestions from the design perspective to aid in navigating the supply chain crisis.


Setting an electrical equipment standard allows for equipment to be purchased early without needing a detailed design to be completed. This aids in shortening the design time necessary to accurately specify the custom equipment order for a project. For example, a project with multiple services could standardize design on 2500kVA transformers, 3000A switchboards, 800A MCCs, and 600A MDPs and proceed with a bulk order for the multiple services. The design of electrical spaces and the power distribution system then stays within the parameters defined by the standard to effectively utilize the purchased equipment.

Flexible Product Selection:

Choosing extra flexibility in the facility equipment design can add confidence to an early equipment order. Some examples include:

  1. Work with vendors to select equipment options that minimize lead time impacts or are in stock. Small changes to features can make a large impact on availability.
  2. Purchase breakers with a wide range of adjustable settings and features that allow a single breaker frame size to cover many sizes of circuits with minimal field changes.
  3. Purchase required and spare starters in the MCC with consideration of the horsepower range that may be needed. This allows the same starter to be used with minimal adjustment, even if the horsepower goes up or down slightly.
  4. Design the electric room space to accommodate late changes to equipment sizes and layouts that may be made to address lead time challenges.

System Design Approach:

When considering the design of the electrical system, think about what you can do to allow work to proceed despite long lead times for equipment. For example:

  1. Include pulling basements below outdoor equipment to allow conductors to be staged while waiting for the transformer or padmount gear.
  2. Plan for wiring gutters or top hats at indoor electrical equipment so field conduit routing and wire pulling can proceed while waiting for MCCs or panelboards.
  3. Focus on preparing interconnections between equipment to help long-lead items be quickly received and put into service.

Quality Assurance And Start-Up:

Nothing is more disappointing than waiting months to receive a piece of equipment and finding issues when working towards start-up. Unfortunately, the challenges of the supply chain have also increased manufacturing quality issues. Here are some suggestions to mitigate this issue:

  1. Purchase acceptance testing services from the manufacturer to inspect the equipment prior to its release from the factory. This is especially recommended for complex equipment that has a significant operational impact.
  2. Perform an inspection upon receipt of the equipment to check against the as-built shop drawings and received equipment against the purchase order. Immediately engage the manufacturer to resolve gaps.
  3. Purchase field inspection and certification services from the manufacturer to review the installation and certify the equipment prior to energization. This extra step can help avoid start-up delays and speed up the process of addressing issues.

If you’re interested in learning more about how design and planning decisions can help mitigate supply chain challenges for your project, call us today at 712-722-1662.