Understanding cable tracking technology and how it will change the industry
Cable products, and hence the industry, tend to be conservative in nature. For example, only two types of conductor material, copper and aluminium, have been used in the manufacture of cables since the 1960s.
Working to recognised standards provides confidence in performance, and with third party certification from organisations such as BASEC, end users can be assured they have specified and are buying well defined products. Demonstrating through product certifications that the cables manufactured have been tested in accordance with proven standards. The need for innovation in order to differentiate cable products from others in the market is a key driver; the identification of, and removal, of unnecessary costs is ever present and is driven by market trends.
One such area that continues to evolve is that of ‘smart’ logistics. This can take many forms, but several leading cable manufacturers now utilise sensors or ‘tags’ within their cable drums to help track the drum as it moves through the supply chain. Timber cable drums are very much the backbone of the cable industry and are frequently reused as replacement is costly for manufacturers, but also to the environment when the drums need to be disposed of. The tags are embedded in the drums, allowing scanners to read the drum information, thereby giving the customer clear information of the product it contains, origin and batch numbering, however, that is merely the start.
Even after the cable products have been installed, these tags can be used to transmit information back to the cable manufacturer. Cable products with GPS locators can be tracked via software, facilitating the physical tracking of inventory locations and management. An understanding of where in the world the product ends up can also be built up to potentially manage or support shipping requirements. Some of the most advanced systems even give real-time updates on the length of cable the drum holds via wireless connection to a cloud-based management platform. Drums can also have an onboard transmitter installed, which provides real-time monitoring and sends an alert when a cable drum is moved from its expected location. Tagging cable drums in this way improves visibility throughout the supply chain, giving both the customer and the cable manufacturer the opportunity to trace and potentially reuse this expensive asset in the most effective way.
As technology improves and tags and sensors are becoming more intelligent, who knows where could this take us? The focus is undoubtedly shifting to being able to monitor individual cable products. Embedding tags into tapes allows them to be run longitudinally across the length of the cable, fixing them into place during the manufacturing process, which would be helpful for many applications. The technology has great potential and would particularly support products being buried in the ground. Recognition and the location of cable types can be monitored without the need to dig them up, especially when accessibility is a challenge. Sensors can also be designed to trigger audible alarms, to alert those nearby or the installers themselves, which could be seen as an added-value safety feature. Performance and operating temperatures can also be tracked, acting again as an additional layer of safety to monitor the efficiency of the product in service.
There are many examples where greater visibility of operating temperatures can make the use of MV and HV cables safer. For example, if sensors are monitoring the operating temperatures of an electrical grid, this data could provide contractors maintaining the power lines with an indication of which lines are operating at the highest temperatures, and could therefore require maintenance or should not be disrupted, to minimise the risk of the contractor receiving an electric shock. This technology could also be used in domestic wiring, making cables traceable when buried within walls to assist with identifying and diagnosing faults. In addition, it could be used to highlight hot spots, areas of high temperature in enclosure-housed electrical equipment, that may not be cooled by additional systems, including fans and blowers. Identifying hot spots could result in the reduction of electrical equipment failures, resulting from overheating.
In the coming years, the industry can expect to see significant changes and advances in the methods used to manufacture cable products. These changes will come in to play, in the realisation of, enabling more effective tracking and greater efficiencies in product uses. While current cable products and their more sophisticated tagged and tracked counterparts may appear to look the same, their capabilities in terms of intelligence will be vastly different. BASEC is monitoring these trends and continues to support the development of new technologies entering the market. One way it does this is through the Certificate of Assessed Design (CAD) process, which verifies the quality of specialised cable products when no specific national or international standards exist. In the same way that BASEC’s control cables scheme assesses the quality and safety of products that have no referenceable standard, the CAD process confirms that the products tested will be safe to use and fit-for-purpose. This process is just as rigorous as the testing BASEC conducts to local, British, European and International standards, as all CADs are reviewed by a technical committee and are subject to regular sampling and auditing.