Productivity Forum: Cables, carriers, and connectors

Feb. 1, 2002
The cable guys — cables, carriers, and connectors — transport the lifeblood of automation, getting critical information where it needs to be during essential factory floor operations. Here's what the experts are saying about the here, the now, and the future of these vital components

When it comes to cables, carriers, and connectors, how do you spell p-r-o-d-u-c-t-i-v-i-t-y?

Mike/Gortrac: Mainly, eliminate downtime due to cable and hose fatigue or carrier failure. Replacements should be infrequent, and easy when necessary. Engineering and installation time also matter. Cable carriers should be quick and easy to spec in and supplied ready to go.

Frank/Belden: Manufacturing system and network uptime is a key productivity parameter. Downtime means equipment is not running and revenue is being lost.

Harry/Olflex: For cable, it’s performance and a minimum of downtime. For connectors, quick disconnect (plug & play) makes for easier replacement, thus better productivity.

David/Hirschmann: Quick, convenient connections result in easier maintenance, less downtime, prevention of wiring errors, and easy troubleshooting. Connectors also make it possible to disassemble a machine after manufacture for transport to the end-user’s site. This reduces debugging time once reassembled at the site.

James/Rockwell: One way to raise productivity is to simplify. Wherever possible, eliminate excess wiring, junction boxes, terminal blocks, conduit, and the need to seal cabinet walls. With a plug-andplay system, you not only simplify installation but commissioning at the end-user site. Essentially, the field wiring does not have to be done (and proven) twice.

Renee/Turck: Productivity ultimately is a cost consideration. Cordsets are fairly low cost compared to the devices they are connected to. The real cost is in replacing them. Replacement can be quite expensive when you factor in the time needed to run and anchor a cable, plus downtime loss. For this reason, a lot of people would much rather replace a sensing device than a cordset.

Joe/igus: Productivity means the reduction or elimination of machine downtime due either to cable failure or the need to maintain the cable management system.

What factor most often limits productivity?

James/Rockwell: Not knowing the true cost of what it takes to wire up a system can limit productivity. There are many small components involved that people just take for granted. End users don’t always take the time to calculate all costs. OEMs often feel they make more money if they wire their panels; however, productivity and resources may be better used in other ways.

Renee/Turck: If a cable fails, it needs to be replaced. If that cable is hard-wired into the device it is connecting, then the device must also be replaced. If there is a quick-disconnect on the cable, then the device is left in place and a new cordset is installed. This alleviates the necessity of setting up the device again. Cables fail for any number of reasons including unintended abuse, continuous movement, movement without proper anchoring, chemical deterioration, and UV deterioration.

David/Hirschmann: Traditional hard-wired methods result in: longer maintenance sessions that include the need for regular cleaning of connections and terminals; possible miswiring; longer problem identification times; exposure to factory and natural elements that cause corrosion; unreliable connections; and interference. Standard cables and some cordsets cannot withstand flex conditions on assembly equipment.

Harry/Olflex: Lack of approvals, use of inferior materials, and using the wrong product for the application limits productivity. Problems with product availability and old machinery — and the downtime caused by these situations — does too.

Frank/Belden: The greatest productivity limitation is the electrical parameters of the cable that must be achieved. As system speeds and length requirements increase, the electrical performance of cables used for those systems also must increase. This requires tighter manufacturing tolerances, better raw materials, and a stricter quality process. Cable that is out of spec can inhibit performance.

Mike/Gortrac: Because cable products are in constant motion, surface areas wear on each other, eventually causing failure. For example, cables wear on the carrier bars and carriers wear on themselves during motion. Many engineers have cables they like to use from Company X, hoses from Company Y, and a carrier from Company Z. Sourcing these items from different companies can be time consuming, also limiting productivity.

Joe/igus: Some cable carriers, by design, are more difficult to work with than others. Also, to maximize productivity, the proper cable carrier must be selected, based on the demands of the specific machine where it will be used. As far as cables, the thing that most often limits productivity is downtime due to failure. This is often due to the cable’s construction. Most cables are not designed to meet the demands of a cable carrier environment. Small bend radii, stacking of cables, and continuous flexing are typically the conditions these cables are faced with.

When you gaze into your crystal ball, what do you see?

Renee/Turck: We are currently working on cables that will last longer in robotic applications. A new, smaller version of armored cable will allow more applications to take advantage of this technology. New compounds are being tested to allow for higher temperature applications but will still allow us to mold a connector onto the cable. You will see a lot more TPR (thermoplastic rubber) cables in the future that offer all the advantages of vulcanized rubber, but the lower cost of PVC or polyurethane.

James/Rockwell: Connectors will continue to get smaller. In the past we have designed cable/ connection systems mostly for control-related wires. Future technology will allow us to make more plug-and-play systems for power connections.

David/Hirschmann: Higher flex cycle, high speed, highly durable cables and connectors combined with the need for reduced production costs will lead to smaller connectors with higher performance capabilities. In some cases, integrated LED and diagnostic features will be available.

Harry/Olflex: Fiber optics, hybrid flexible tray cable with worldwide approvals, and halogen free products are in the future. Also, connectors with new environmentally friendly surface materials.

Frank/Belden: We see the advance of industrial Ethernet as the key future technology in industrial control networks. This will require cables designed to meet the exacting electrical requirements of Ethernet networks as well as withstand the rigors of industrial environments.

Mike/Gortrac: We recently developed a low drag carrier system for long travels with heavy loads. Several of our carriers have just been tested to meet Federal standard 209E Class 1 clean room requirements, which will benefit the semiconductor and surface mount technology industries.

What solutions and strategies can you recommend for increasing machine productivity?

Renee/Turck: Most cable failures can be avoided by using the right cable installed the right way. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, however. We have more than 320 different cable options, for example, varying in jacket material and conductor insulation. Problem areas include continuous flex (robots), cutting oil, chemical, water, sunlight, abrasion, cutting, and flame or temperature extremes. We even have a cordset with interlocking aluminum armor that provides an alternative to conduit.

James/Rockwell: Our latest solutions connect products inside the panel with devices outside. A potted sealed gasket maintains an IP65/NEMA 4 environment. These are plug-and-play systems that extend from the PLC in the panel to sensors scattered throughout the machine. Because there’s no need to get wiring through the bulkhead of the cabinet, designers have more flexibility with fewer parts to detail and plan for. It saves on hardware costs, cabinet space, and wiring and labor costs.

David/Hirschmann: Flexibility is the key. We have high-flex cable for automated equipment, 360-degree shielded cable options to protect against radio frequency interference, stainless steel connector options, and IP67 and IP68 connectors and cordsets to protect vital industrial connections from harsh environments. Many connectors may be ordered with custom cable lengths, connector options, conductor color identification, LED options, additional strain-relief, specials, and variations.

Harry/Olflex: To increase productivity for cables, we concentrate on R&D, new designs, and product upgrades, as well as state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment, facilities, and product testing. Regarding connectors, we offer polarization of plugs, as well as convenience — one source for cables and connectors.

Frank/Belden: Many of our performance enhancements have been made through improvements in our manufacturing processes. We also focus on solutions that meet the needs of current and future technology. For example, our latest flexible automation cables are designed for continuous flexing applications and include cables for variable frequency drive and industrial network applications.

Mike/Gortrac: Every cable carrier should be designed to maintain the proper bend radius of the cables and hoses they are carrying. We have developed many products to help counter the wear issue. Poly rollers, for instance, are plastic sleeves that spin freely between a cable and the crossbar of the carrier. This greatly reduces cable and hose wear during motion. Separators and dividers also keep cables and hoses of different sizes and functions from crossing over and interfering with each other. Sliders are small replaceable shoes that snap onto our non-metallic carriers. Over long travels, a nylon carrier will ride on itself and wear out. These shoes act as a sacrificial wear surface that can be replaced easily and inexpensively. The pivot points, or hubs, of a carrier are also a wear area. We offer a replaceable hub, which can be swapped out while the carrier is still on the machine. Our steel carriers are stronger and lighter than conventional carriers. This allows for longer unsupported spans and a larger carrying capacity. We also employ a half shear technology, replacing pin and snap rings.

Joe/igus: We have developed our own line of continuous flex cables, made specifically for use in chains. We have tested them extensively and offer a complete system guarantee. Specific benefits include ease of use, long life, large selection, and innovation. For instance, we have a carrier that does not require a guiding system in long travels as well as chain that has built-in rollers to allow for longer travel distances with a smaller chain. We also manufacture the largest and smallest all-polymer cable carriers in the industry.

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