What lies beneath the sheath?

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Julie Banks, UK sales manager at Nexans, discusses how it is everyone’s responsibility to establish if the cables they are using really are fit for purpose 

Data centre managers face a number of challenges: to keep a reliable flow of information, to manage the consumption of energy; to plan future migration, to keep up with exponential data growth; and reduce running costs. Therefore, when choosing the right cables for data centres, they must understand what lays beneath the sheath. 

About 60% of cables used in the UK are currently imported and sold through distribution channels. This means that identifying the brand of a cable can be difficult as it is not always completely clear where a cable has come from. In addition to this, the increasing price pressure (partly due to the increase in the price of raw material, such as oil, ethylene, PVC and the volatile price of LME) and acceleration of commoditisation can cause buyers to seek better prices, which in turn can result in quality being put at risk. 

Safety starts with you

Not all cables are manufactured to meet the required approvals for data centres. It is possible that some cables are designed using inferior methods and materials that will not meet local requirements. If there is any doubt that a cable is not fit for purpose, the specification of the product should be checked and questioned. It is up to the customer to ensure that the cable they purchase meets the required safety standards for its application. To make an informed decision on the safety of a cable, it is important to ask yourself: “Do I really know what’s beneath the sheath?”

New CPR regulations

One way to prevent the use of sub-standard products in data centres is to only purchase those that comply with the Construction Products Regulations (CPR). Since 1 July 2017, every product must be CE marked (which means a product complies with all European directives and regulations) and needs to have a Declaration of Performance (DoP). CPR has been introduced by the European Commission to enforce that construction works are designed and executed so as not to endanger the safety of persons, domestic animals or property nor damage the environment. 

The aim of CPR is to create a harmonised set of rules for the marking of construction products within the EU. This will provide a common technical language in order to assess the performance of construction products and ensure the availability of information, so comparisons can be made.

Although it is the primary responsibility of the manufacturer or importer to ensure that products placed on the EU market comply with CPR obligations, the installer should also check that the cables comply by requesting a DoP. 

By doing this and becoming educated in this area, the installer can be reassured that the product meets CPR, as all drums and labelling should have the same reference number as the DoP and the same CE mark and the year in which the CE marking was first affixed. 

Fire safety is an issue across multiple sectors, including IT. In fact, according to a Capitoline survey, 21% of all non-IT catastrophic failures of data centres are due to fire and 5% are due to a malfunction of the fire system. This is why it is vital to ensure that the chosen cables comply with CPR regulations to reduce the damage and prevent the spread if a fire ever did occur in a data centre.

The importance of CPD

An excellent way to improve knowledge in the safety of cables is through experience, learning and application in the workplace. Many manufacturers in the industry offer various CPD modules that can help to bring a proactive approach to learning. The modules combine all sorts of training from workshops, e-learning, best practices and classroom education. 

Consider asking the manufacturer for more information on the cable, even if the end user does not have a direct relationship with the manufacturer. The manufacturer has the technical expertise, knowledge and understanding to support the entire channel. They have the responsibility to provide accurate and clear technical information to help customers make more informed decisions. 

Other bodies can also support in making informed decisions such as the Approved Cables Initiative (ACI) and British Cables Association (BCA). The BCA is the UK trade association for manufacturers of insulated metallic and fibre optic cables, wires and their accessories. It provides the latest information about the industry and contributes to the development of British, European and International Standards. It also helps publish codes of practice and guides to safe manufacturing usage. 

The responsibility is yours

Ultimately, it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that cables used on any project really are fit for purpose – from the manufacturer, to the distributor, to the installer and finally the end user. 

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