WEB EXCLUSIVE: Untangling The Mess

This web exclusive comes from Steve Stephenson, managing partner, Graphic Products, Inc.

Twisted and tangled cables—which support workers who must transport information electronically—are a nightmare for those facility managers responsible for identifying, maintaining, and installing telecom system components such as horizontal links, backbone cables, faceplates/outlets, and termination hardware. Though largely invisible to the average person, these cables connect phones, alarms, servers, computers, and video images. Add months or years of unseen dust to the already confusing state of most buildings’ telecommunications rooms, and fms may have a challenge that feels insurmountable.

Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) standards updated in 2009 make locating, repairing, and upgrading these systems much easier. The ANSI/TIA/EIA-606A Administration Standard for Telecommunication—most people call it the 606A—was specifically created for technicians to improve legibility and upgrade the professional appearance of installations through proper labeling of components. The goal is to know exactly what components exist in the system, where they are installed, and how they are connected.

Specifically, 606A calls for labeling visibility (size, color, and contrast) and durability. The standard calls for a uniform labeling format that indicates the type, location, and purpose of all cables and end-points plus color coding for faster and easier identification of all elements. Labels must be moisture, heat, and UV-resistant, demonstrate a long life, and must be created or printed with a mechanical device (since handwritten labels may be illegible).

In the grand scheme of things, a new labeling standard may not seem like a big deal, but when the phones and computers aren’t working because the cables are taking a long time to fix, everyone from business owners to installers to building dwellers suffer the pain of losing productivity, time, and money. So it’s important to know which cable leads to which piece of equipment.

DuraLabel Self Laminating Wire Wrap

Shrink tubes and color coded self laminating wire wraps provide two proven solutions to marking and identifying wires and cables. Shrink tubes (like those from DuraLabel) are made from polyolefin—a very flexible, specially formulated cross-linked material with a low recovery temperature, 3:1 shrink ratio, thin wall, and high flame retardance. Shrink tubes provide a permanent label that tightly adheres to the wire.

Handheld or desktop printers make it easy to create clear identifying information using text, numbers, and graphics. Users slip the shrink tube over the end of a cable or wire using a heat gun to shrink the tube. The result is a tight fitting, permanent label. There are no adhesives that might fail or tags that can get pulled off. With its thin wall, the shrink tube is pliable and can flex along with whatever it encases. Shrink tube material comes in 25 foot rolls.

While shrink tubes can only be applied before a wire is terminated, self laminating wire wraps are ideal for labeling wires that are terminated. One inch labels wrap around wires as narrow as 0.078” (12 gauge). A clear “tail” that wraps over the printed portion of the label provides long-lasting protection. A major benefit? Color coding makes identification easy.

When the 606A standard is next revised is anyone’s guess. Typically, these guidelines are updated every three to five years. Will the telecommunications infrastructure (with its maze of cables and wires) grow even more complex during this time? Chances are likely. In that case, new labeling techniques and supplies will need to keep pace.