Delight in the detail

Leading lines: getting cable selection right from the off will save you in the long term. Image courtesy of Igus
Image courtesy of Igus
Image courtesy of Igus
"One can find a huge variation in performance of cables from different manufacturers."

Leaving the cable selection to last in the design cycle is a recipe for disaster, as Felicity Landon discovers

Which cables are the right ones? And what is ‘right’? “If you are deterred by the price tag, you may lose sight of the final goal,” warns Michael Ibarth, product manager for cables at Wampfler in Germany. Having the perfect cable does not lead to good solutions, he emphasises. “Cables are not better by themselves – they become part of a better solution when the alignment within the system is optimised. Good solutions will very much depend on the application and the surrounding components.”

For example, if you want to reel a cable, then it should be able to withstand the stresses it will be exposed to during the operation – torsional, flexing and tensile stress. “At the same time, the cable should be light and small in order to minimise overall system dimensions. Therefore, the best cable is always the cable that is built for the right application and fully compatible with the corresponding system – e.g. a reeling drum, an energy chain or a festoon system.

“After all, the total cost of ownership will depend very much on the initial cost – the cost of installation, commissioning and operation divided by the lifetime it can achieve.”

And it’s worth getting it right, as Mr Ibarth points out; in the port environment, the costs related to machine and equipment downtime caused by cable failures are usually much higher than the initial cost for the material itself, as it is usually quite difficult to access cables. “Therefore it is tremendously important to pick the right components initially in order to avoid these failures. Sorting out the problem can involve major work, especially if the use of heavy mobile cranes is needed in order to carry out difficult hoisting and handling tasks.”

It’s a view echoed by Don Nester, Chainflex product manager for Germany-based Igus’ business in North America, who says that despite the potential for horrendous difficulties in sorting out problems later, often the choice of cable management solution is pretty low down the list of priorities when it comes to designing new cranes.

“Typically in most cases, cables and the way in which they are managed are left to the last in the design cycle, where there are much more expensive components and other, bigger design issues that need to be addressed. Cabling and what kind of cables are going to be used are often left as an after-thought. That is where we come in as cable management experts.

“If you have a cable that has to be replaced every six months or year, you will have a lot of downtime, which is lost profits. Cable failure can cause tremendous problems with downtime.

“In the ship-to-shore application, typically the cables are, of course, in the air. Any time you have an electrical installation off the ground, you have to spend quite a bit of time and get more people involved, because there are so many safety conditions, and tools on the ground that need to be brought up, etc. It is a miserable situation to have to lift cables 100 feet in the air.”

Of course, the port environment provides a huge challenge: “Cables intended for continuous flexing in harsh environments require special materials and manufacturing techniques,” says Mr Nester.

“For example, ship-to-shore cranes require power control and data cables that move long distances and are also subject to severe outside environments.”

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