Walk through an older academic or commercial building, or airport, and you may find people clustered in seemingly random spots: at the base of columns, at regular intervals against the walls, or behind the lectern in a mess of audio-visual equipment. They are, of course, angling for an electrical outlet in which to charge their devices.
Researchers at Steelcase, headquartered in Grand Rapids, Mich., observed this sacrifice of comfort and mobility by workers and students trying to plug in. Today, the furniture maker launched Thread, a modular power distribution system that can be installed in new or retrofit commercial and educational spaces.
Seventy-three percent of workers use three or more electronic devices to perform their job, according to Steelcase. The number of outlets in many office and academic buildings has not kept pace. As companies and schools reconfigure spaces or create open floorplans, areas in the building core that were never wired for productivity may suddenly become a bustling hub of activity without an easy way to recharge.
Until wireless charging stations become more robust, adding electrical service to an existing space typically requires trenching or coring into floor decks, building raised floor systems, running extension cords, and getting creative with power strips (which we at ARCHITECT do not advocate).
With Thread, Steelcase ventures into a new market for office technology. The company’s patented system consists of an ultra-thin steel track that can be laid under new or existing carpet. At 3/16-inch tall—essentially, the height of a positive, negative, and ground wire—and with ramps that flank both sides, the track does not appear to be a trip hazard or a visual aberration, particularly after it is covered by carpet. The track comes in 1-foot increments from 2 to 12 feet in length, which includes the infeed; the maximum run is 70 feet.
The track ties into a low-profile, disc-shaped connector with an exposed face that sits nearly flush with the carpet surface. The final piece of Thread is a floor-mounted monument connector or standing power hub. The floor adapter plugs directly into the connector and is 2 inches tall, which makes its four standard, three-prong outlets visible and easy to access. As a potential trip hazard, it is best suited for siting under furniture, such as a chair or desk.
Meanwhile, the freestanding power hub provides six standard outlets at 30 inches high (lounge height) or 36 inches high (desk height). The standing power hub is intended for easy relocation to other floor connectors throughout a carpeted area.
Power is supplied to the Thread system by tying the track into existing electrical services that run behind or on the walls. It is a one-circuit, 20-amp system, which is enough to power laptops, mobile devices, and even furniture with integrated power. The infeed track uses a universal connector that an electrician can connect to any standard 1/2-inch product for wiring, such as flexible or rigid conduit, according to Steelcase.
Certified by Underwriters Laboratories and ADA compliant, Thread will be available this April for everyone to start plugging in.