Cable management - The changing face of cable management

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With just three core product groups you could be forgiven for believing  innovation and cable management don't go hand-in-hand but, according to  Nigel Leaver of legrand, you'd be wrong. He talks to Electrical Review about why cable management is one of the most dynamic and innovative elements of the electrical product market

I suppose it's fair to say that someone looking at the cable management market from the outside could view it as relatively stagnant arena on the basis its core product groups - overhead, perimeter and floor systems - were developed years ago and have pretty much dealt with everything thrown at them ever since.

And, to an extent, they are right - but only on one point. The cable management market does have three core product groups that have dealt with everything ever thrown at them. But, stagnant it most certainly is not.

In fact, the cable management market is one of, if not, the most competitive in the electrical industry and as such has witnessed a truly impressive array of innovative developments over the years.

The reason for this is easily explained. In order to remain competitive the various manufacturers have to remain on a continuous path of product development and reinvention. The aim being to produce a product or system with benefits that outweigh anything the competition can offer. And although this outcome is likely to remain forever unachievable, it does mean that manufacturers are continually delivering enhanced solutions that incorporate the most sought after features and benefits.

As a result, the vast majority of innovation has been based around the goal of delivering cable management products that are quicker, easier and, subsequently cheaper to install and maintain. This though is where the similarities end. These innovations have covered virtually every aspect of the market, from brand new products through to the fixtures and fittings used to secure them.

Fantastic Plastic
When it was first introduced, perimeter trunking was made exclusively from metal, but as time moved on many manufacturers began to realise that plastic (PVC-U) products could deliver a workable, and potentially better, alternative.

After an extensive and exhaustive process, it was proven to be easier, quicker and cheaper to install, while also having the additional benefit of allowing for a flush finish on both flat and uneven walls.

What followed was a sea change from steel and aluminium to plastic trunking, but, as so often is the case, this shift wasn't accepted by everyone. In fact, the level of debate surrounding this development has been such that arguments still rage as to which provides the better solution.

For example, some will argue that because plastic trunking is quicker and easier to install it will always be the best option, but others will point to the fact that aluminium trunking is longer lasting, stronger and provides good EMC protection so therefore has to be the number one choice.  Add to that the fact steel is tamper and vandal resistant and that both metal options can be powder coated in a wide range of colours to compliment the design aspects of any environment and it's easy to see why the argument continues unabated.
In this situation, as with all the best long-running arguments, there really is no right or wrong. The only clear cut answer being that the right solution can only really be chosen once the location and conditions of a specific installation are known.

Tray time
Another great example of innovation in action was the development of steel wire cable tray as an alternative to traditional perforated tray. In fact, such has been its success many now suggest it can be used instead of perforated tray in all scenarios.

Again, this is very much open to debate, because it is very much the installation that dictates the required solution. Take for example an installation in a confined space with numerous twists, turns and obstacles to cope with. In this situation wire mesh tray is the best option due to the fact it is manufactured with the aim of being easily configured on site. Of course, installations do vary and if faced with one that requires numerous straight lengths then perforated tray is still the best option. The reason being that it's generally stronger and so only needs supports every 2 to 2.5 metres, rather than the 1 to 1.5 metre intervals that wire mesh requires. Therefore, with fewer cantilever arms or trapeze hangers to fit, the installation time, and subsequently cost, is significantly reduced.

Adding to the tray mix, has been the recent development and introduction of PVC-U cable tray - a product that could well prove to be a viable alternative to metal because of its excellent corrosion resistance in aggressive environments and the fact the cost of raw material for metal products continues to rise.

A quicker fit
Not all the innovations that have made a major impact on the market have involved entire product systems. In fact, some of the most notable have involved the development of new fixtures and fittings that have allowed installation to become quicker and easier without wholesale changes taking place.

Developments such as the quick bolt coupler that enabled installers to secure perforated tray using just one hand, and click-fit systems on busbar ranges, which simply required connectors to be inserted and a cover slid over the joint to create a secure coupling that could only be released by inserting a screwdriver into the locking point, have helped installers shave valuable time off installation

Something new
A final element to be taken into account when considering innovation is that inspired by changing market demands. This has recently been seen in the commercial market, where the demand has grown for cost effective, environmentally friendly solutions that provide maximum design freedom.

The reason for this new demand is that simply offering a set floorplan, which very much dictated the use of the space, went out of fashion. Businesses today want space they can then use in their own way, and because so many now operate on a short-term lease basis, a growing number of property owners are coming to the conclusion that it's imperative they can return their property to its original state as easily as possible in order to let to new clients as quickly as possible.

The cable management industry's response to this has been swift and impressive, with raised floor cable management systems being developed with the aim of delivering ultimate flexibility in terms of installation and reconfiguration.

In a nutshell, these systems house cables under a raised floor that is as easy to lay as it is to dismantle, meaning access to cabling is easier than ever before. As a result, systems can be laid, altered and even removed with minimum fuss.

Demonstrating the full scope of this innovation is the fact the industry has also tackled another burning issue during its development - sustainability. Certain systems have been manufactured using fully-recyclable steel and recycled polypropylene in the construction of the floor tiles and supports respectively, while others require neither glue nor screws during installation. All of which combines to makes such systems the greenest yet.

While this level of product development and innovation ensures the cable management market is amongst the most buoyant in the electrical industry, it does produce one issue that could well be construed as a negative, and that is the potential for confusion. The reason being that with so many different solutions available, the choice of which is the best can sometimes become blurred. And with some companies intent on pushing their solution, and their solution alone, it becomes even harder for specifiers and contractors to be sure who to trust when it comes to determining the benefits of the various different solutions. In such situations, my advice would be to contact a company that manufactures a whole spectrum of cable management products so that you know the solution you're getting is the best available.