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When identifying wire and cable installations, project size and complexity should influence the type of label selected.

Image: TE Connectivity

Test & Measurement Avoiding a case of mistaken identity

Dec 20, 2017

Sensors and diagnostics systems are growing increasingly common – and while this is opening up the ability to save cost by monitoring & optimising operations, a side effect is that wiring installations are becoming more complex. The article explains how to select the best identification marker for a specific job and how to ensure markers remain in place and readable for as long as they’re needed.

Each additional sensor requires additional cabling and terminations and if not labelled properly, identifying these could have major repercussions during the life of equipment. During its life, a typical asset will experience many maintenance inspections, repairs, refurbishments or refits. Every time these happen it’s vital that maintenance technicians can identify the right cables and terminations quickly and efficiently.

Without adequate identification, a technician could spend many additional hours tracing cables individually to find and resolve faults. Because of this, labels and markers can be worth their weight in gold over the years – with the time saved being worth significantly more than the initial cost of purchase.

Remaining in place & readable

Their long-term staying power and legibility is how identification markers demonstrate their value. While they may seem very straightforward, a great deal of materials science has gone into the development of identification systems.

Most importantly, they must be able to withstand their operating environment. Depending on the application, this may include extreme temperatures, full sun exposure, aggressive fluids such as solvents, lubricants or fuel, mechanical wear, moisture, or a combination of these. With a huge number of potential applications, it’s no wonder that there are so many identification products and solutions on the market. Each one is suited to a different type of application and to meet the priorities of operators. Identification products take the form of labels, heat-shrinkable sleeves, markers and stickers that identify cables, terminations and terminal equipment.

When buying identification markers, the only objective is to ensure that they will remain in place and legible for as long as required. The first thing to look for is an identification system that meets the standards of the application where it will be installed and the conditions that may be encountered. Specific products are available that meet the conditions found in defence, marine, aviation, electronics and general electrical installations. One example from electronics is a type of label for printed circuit boards. Made of polymide, it can be printed with bar codes and once in place, remains in place in spite of proximity to soldering operations.

System approach

Before examining the pros and cons of different types of identification marker, it’s important to remember that manufacturers can only guarantee performance of identification markers when they have been developed as systems rather than products.

This system approach includes the marker material, ink, print settings and software. Not only are these developed in combination, but they also undergo rigorous laboratory testing together against the relevant industry standards. These tests show that even when put through significant mechanical abuse, high or low temperatures or exposure to industrial fluids, the mark remains readable and the material stays in place.

To ensure consistent guaranteed performance, installers should choose markers that are made under tightly controlled conditions, including in end to end of development, testing and manufacture. This eliminates variations between batches and leads to consistent identification markers that will be dependable, readable and firmly attached when they are needed.

Wire and cable identification

When identifying wire and cable installations, project size and complexity should influence the type of label selected. For example, for a one-off or low volume cabling project, pre-printed snap-on or slip-on markers may be the best option. These are purchased as individual letters that can be combined into alphanumeric codes.

As complexity grows, the size of each installation or the number of products may increase. At this point, installers may need to introduce longer alphanumeric codes, sequential numbering and bar codes. These justify investment in a printable system that is compatible with a more automated approach. For example, this can enable the installer to download identification codes or numbers from a CAD (computer aided drawing) system and print off reading for installation.

For this type of more complex wire and cable installation, some installers prefer to use markers in the form of flagging labels. These stand out and are easy for maintenance technicians to sort and search through for the right connection. Other installers prefer self-laminating wrap-around labels, which lie flat against the cable and have a neat and tidy appearance.

The most durable identification markers tend to be heat-shrinkable sleeves that are based on cross-linked polyethylene materials that were originally developed by the Raychem brand in the 1950s. These can survive long exposure to extremely harsh conditions, such as those experienced in the marine, aviation and railway industries. Some examples of this type of marker are still intact and legible today even after decades in operation.

Labelling terminations and cabinets

Meanwhile, printable flat labels are often used to identify terminations, buttons and connections in electrical cabinets, as well as equipment. Many different varieties are available to suit different industries and environments – and installers should choose carefully to ensure the label and its adhesive meet the demands of the application and the industry.

While the label material itself is important, it is important to remember because identification markers follow a system approach, the adhesive is just as important as the label material. This is particularly important when for powder coated cabinets. Powder coating creates an attractive and protective finish that protects the underlying steel cabinet from moisture and chemicals. However, powder coating is resistant to adhesives. It has a low surface tension, which is a measure of how well adhesives stick to a surface.

Therefore, installers who need to apply labels to electrical cabinets or other powder coated assets should always look for labels that are suited to this type of surface. One example is a new type of panel label that TE Connectivity is preparing to launch in early 2018.

New developments in identification

That is one example of a new development in identification but there are others. Manufacturers often introduce new products that have potential to save time and cost – therefore it’s worth taking a fresh look at what’s available.

For example, in 2015 TE extended its range of heat-shrink sleeves for wire and cable identification with a new product called ZHD-SCE. TE recognised a demand for markers with Low Fire Hazard (LFH) performance as well as resistance to fluids such as diesel, oils and solvents. The new marker is now being adopted in the defense, marine and rail industries, where safety and resistance to fluids are paramount, for example on electrical installations close to diesel engines.

Other current developments under investigation by materials scientists include enhancing the performance of existing labels. For example, a new type of polymer-based label can be used as an alternative to engraved metal plates that have traditionally been used in aviation and other industries. By switching from engraved plates to the new labels, manufacturers can save time that would have been needed to produce the plates, as well as attach and varnish them.

Another new development is possible due to modern digital printing techniques. It’s now possible to create highly customised markers that optimise the time of specialist technicians, letting them focus on manufacturing rather than printing labels. While identification can range from simple to sophisticated, we’re taking a fresh approach with a new catalogue based on the three approaches that buyers take when searching for identification products. Markers are listed by types such as tags, pre-printed markers, printable tubes, printer hardware, software or accessories such as ribbons and reel holders.

They are also listed by industry to be as convenient as possible for those who are looking to meet the standards and specifications of a certain industry. The third and final way they are listed is by part number, allowing buyers who know their part number already to dive straight and find the right size, colour and quantity of markers that they need to complete their job.

The article is authored by Ujjwal Varma, Product Marketing Manager for Identification Systems, TE Connectivity

Image Gallery

  • For complex wire and cable installation, some installers prefer to use markers in the form of flagging labels

  • When identifying wire and cable installations, project size and complexity should influence the type of label selected

    Image: iStock

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