Network Data Cabling and Wiring: How to Make Networking Cable
Ever wondered how low voltage network data cabling and wiring like Cat3 or Cat6 is made? Understanding the manufacturing process might have an impact on your handling and installation of cable in your facility- it definitely makes a difference to NetQ installers! Here’s the story of how we get our copper wire:
After the mining and refining process of copper ore is complete, the first step of producing low voltage cable is to break down the initial raw material- copper rod which arrives at the cable plant in 5 to 15,000 lb. coils. The copper coils are slowly unwound and forced through a series of diamond-tipped dies that sequentially lower the diameter of the copper from 2 gauge (5/16 of an inch) to 10 gauge (about 1/10 of an inch) or 12 gauge 0.08 inches). During the drawing process, technicians apply a special lubricant to lower the amount of heat and friction on the cables. The result is a series of 5000 ft. coils in differing gauges according to buyers’ specifications.
An overhead crane then transports the coils to the insulation area in which the bare copper wire might undergo yet another drawing operation if needed, down to to 19 or even 26 gauge (0.016 of an inch in diameter). All wire is then charged with a large current of electricity which spikes its temperature very briefly to approximately one thousand degrees. This does two things- anneals the metal to transform it from a brittle interior structure to the flexible wire that we know and love. To prevent oxidization, the entire process is done underwater which also serves to clean the wire in preparation for application of plastic insulation.
After it’s cool and safely flexible, the strand of wire then enters an extruder which adds one or two layers of plastic around it. High-density polyethelene pellets are heated, then applied to the wire as it shoots through the machine at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour. Another cooling trough awaits the almost finished wire, after which the wire is coiled on takeup spools.
The next station for each wire is a laser measurement system that verifies that manufacturing specifications have been met. The wire’s electrical properties are also evaluated, like capacitance and resistance.
While the process may sound fairly straightforward, it can be challenging for the technicians working the line. Representing one manufacturer, Cable Systems International, Insulate Supervisor Norm Odom says that his operation starts employees with 12 weeks of training and certification. Even after 25 years of operating the specialized equipment, his techs still run into baffling challenges.
There are a few more steps to bring your network data cabling and wiring to an equipment room near you. The same-gauge insulated wires are twisted in pairs to prevent “crosstalk,” or the leakage of signal from one wire to another. Full twists vary from two to seven inches in length depending on a proprietary formula. When twisted pairs are included in the same cable housing, it is essential that no two of them have the same twist ratio.
The physical demands of handling the wire spools at this point are high, so the operators of the twisting equipment are careful to use correct lifting techniques and stretching exercises to keep from injury. Two operators manage a stranding machine. One positions the reels of different colored wire spools on a feeder stand, then guides the wire through a rotating and oscillating motion. The second person makes sure the wires are then grouped into 25-pair bundles and wrapped in differently colored binders for identification. The bundles are then super-bundled into 100-pair units, as needed.
The Cable Unit has been created. Now what? The following step is the jacketing process. The details of this step vary based on the type of cable that you want to manufacture. An OSP cable will use black polyethylene. Cat5e, Cat3 and Cat6 Premise cable will be different colors based on the PVC grades. The reason for this is because each cable will have different flame safety requirements for the copper cabling network installation. Jacketing begins with molten plastic that forms around the core of the cable. The goal is to shield the cables from water. In some cases, a blocking compound will be applied during this stage. Additionally, if the cable needs single or double shielding, the process repeats with the added layers applied over several runs.
Just before the cable is wrapped in final packaging, a hot foil printing process is used, which leaves an indented stamp on the cable jacket. for indoor cable, a high-speed inkjet printer is used.
In the final step before a copper cabling network installation can take place, the cable is wound on a coil or reel. This requires precise control over the tension, and it ensures that the cable will not tangle or break as it gets pulled from the spool. Before the cable can be used for copper cabling network installation, it will go through a series of final testing procedures that checks the mechanical and electrical performance. After that, it is ready for shipping.
Here’s a video from cable maker Standard Essex so you can see some examples of the machinery involved in making cable:
NetQ media uses high-grade network data cabling and wiring from many different manufacturers, depending on the demands of the project. It takes a deep knowledge of both established and cutting edge products to make every job one we are proud of.