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Product design's role in utility access

Investment in good design makes a significant contribution to successful new product development (NPD) and ultimately the way products are used. First and foremost design is closely associated with enhanced performance, but it also applies to other areas of NPD such as listening to customer’s needs and value engineering. For developers and end users, there are many considerations when choosing products for construction, but an integral factor to quality, longevity and aesthetics is good product design.

In the case of utility access, it is core to the functionality of an installation and the use of well- designed access covers can save money further down the line, reducing maintenance time and offering tangible safety benefits.

Whilst utilities often go ‘unseen’ by Utility and Asset Managers until something goes wrong, choosing appropriate access solutions can help to prevent problems. An example of this can be seen in busy town centres, retail developments and other areas, where the simple addition of a high tolerance cap, for example, can reduce the common problem of heels getting caught in exposed keyholes and causing a trip hazard; a common cause of  public litigation.

In the case of precinct cover CD PR09 (main picture), safety as always is high on the design agenda. Features such as, slide out covers with easy-to-remove trays reduce the risk of manual handling injury and the addition of a mesh base to reduce infill movement, can all add value to operator and public experience.

Securing assets is also a key requirement for underground utilities. The use of concealed locking systems, sometimes with additional security options for high risk installations, can act as a theft deterrent but also provide added security against unauthorised access. Metal theft, for example, is a big problem in infrastructure! Offences run into the tens of thousands with 47% infrastructure-related according to Home Office statistics.

For many, however, there will always be the struggle between ideal specification and budget, but it could be argued that good product design is so fundamental to the efficient and effective management and protection of utilities that it should be a primary consideration. Choosing the right materials can save time and money and effort further into a project. The choice of robust materials for appropriate loading conditions, permanent specified badging impressed into the fabric of the product, designs that improve interaction with bedding materials and other factors need to be all considered as part of an installation.

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