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Conduit fittings - do you get what you pay for?

Not always cheap and cheerful – sometimes buying cheap can cost you double
GreenBrook’s Sales Director, John Bowen, issues a word of caution against low prices and claims that if things seem too good to be true, they probably are…
The quality of electrical products used is vital to the safety and reliability of any electrical installation.  However, despite a tradition of loyalty and a routine of buying products from a name they can trust, too many specifiers and contractors are starting to prioritise cost over quality as the industry battles to offer better value to its customers.
Most manufacturers are working hard to serve their customers by keeping prices as low as possible, but if a product is significantly cheaper it is for a reason – it may be made using lower quality materials or follow an unproven design and, in some cases, it will not have undergone the kind of rigorous health and safety testing that the UK market expects.  Therefore the product could potentially fail or even more seriously, be hazardous to the end user.
Quality standards such as CE marking and the European WEEE, REACH and RoHS directives are designed to safeguard against faulty or sub-standard products and they certainly have their value. However, no-one polices them and, as a result, they have no teeth.  CE marking relies entirely on self-certification with absolutely no requirement for third party checks, which leaves suppliers free to safety test their products as rigorously, or as lackadaisically as they see fit.   In addition, as Trading Standards lack the manpower to act in the rare event that concerns are raised over European standards not being met; these ostensibly third party endorsements are also little more than a logo on the packaging.
The Case of Conduit
The humble cast iron conduit fitting provides an excellent example of why buying decisions made based entirely on price are risky and short sighted.  Conduit fittings can vary significantly in quality because there are varying grades available on the market.
Malleable cast iron fittings can be bent, shaped or drawn by hammers or rollers because they undergo a lengthy annealing heat treatments process when manufactured, which gives them their unique properties and, as a result they cost a little more.
Non-malleable fittings, on the other hand, may look the same but they are far cheaper to produce because they don’t go through this process.  As a result they often shatter when being installed because the different process and completely inferior grade of material used to produce them results in a product that is simply too brittle.
Typically, an electrical contractor may install hundreds or even thousands of conduit boxes in a single installation, so opting for non-malleable conduit boxes is not a cheap and cheerful option – it’s a costly mistake!  It’s just one example of how the costs of the simplest installation can increase dramatically because of an attempt to save money on electrical products.  The focus is now so clearly directed towards cost saving that contractors may feel pressurised into looking for a bargain, and some wholesalers have become complicit in their single track strategy for reducing costs.  Often contractors will spend valuable time shopping around to save a penny per unit on a simple commodity product.  However, surely these modest cost savings are not worth the additional time, effort and cost of replacing the sub-standard products, not to mention the increased time on site or all that time researching and negotiating the best price deal.
The Value Strategy
Instead of looking for cost savings, it pays to trust a reputable brand with years of experience of developing products that are truly fit for purpose and a clear commitment to customer service, after sales support and a reliable supply chain with plentiful availability.
It’s not surprising during these tough economic times that cost has become the number one priority right across the supply chain.  However, safety and reliability should always come first, otherwise how can the industry expect to hold on to the professional reputation it deserves?  It’s a principle that needs to be held sacred by all manufacturers and, unfortunately, it’s the isolated few that make it difficult to be sure which brands to trust.  Only by concentrating on delivering quality and being prepared to pay for it can the industry stem the tide of sub-standard products, otherwise it will end up counting the cost of its complacency.