Choose the Right Cable Jacket Material

July 17, 2013 at 10:00 AM


Plenum, LSZH and More

 

L-com's Plenum rated multiconductor cable

 

For buyers and technicians using signal-grade cabling, much attention is usually given to the connector type, termination process and bulk cable construction. Another aspect not to be forgotten that can be critical to many applications is the cable jacket material.

 

 

What does the jacket do?

 

More than just a color coding cable management technique, the jacket has several important functions. It allows the separate conductors to be organized into a single data line for ease of organizing, or it can even contain several conductors or wires to be broken out at a drop point.

 

The cable jacket also aids tremendously in the cable's flexibility and durability. In covering any shielding within the cable, it can prevent noise that collects on the shield from degrading the signals of other cables nearby, or from draining at inappropriate spots. Finally, the outer jacket is often the last line of defense between the data-carrying conductors and the environment in which the cable is used.

 

 

Fire Code Considerations

 

Comparison of cable jackets burning

Perhaps the most important aspect of a cable's jacket is how that jacket burns in a fire. PVC, the flexible plastic material that makes up most general purpose or residential grade cables is cheap and convenient, but it burns quickly and releases poisonous gas while burning.

 

If cables are run behind the walls of a building or in a vehicle and a fire breaks out, that fire can "leap" from room to room or floor to floor by burning along the cables behind the walls. And if the location where the cables are run is difficult to exit, as in a submarine, ship, airplane or even crowded warehouse, the poisonous smoke would compound the difficulty in dealing with the fire.

 

Because of this, many cables are given flammability compliance codes to help technicians from buying or using inappropriate cables. But, differences in measurement techniques and designations can make the process very confusing. In general, though, there are two "types" or classes of jacket materials other than PVC.

 

 

Plenum for Fire Retardation and Self-Extinguishing

 

In many large buildings, the duct work between rooms and floors is also the raceway for much of the building's data cabling. This space is often called the building's "plenum", and so the types of cables run in these environments are often called Plenum rated cables or just Plenum cables.

 

Plenum materials must be self-extinguishing, meaning that after they start burning and then the external fire or heat source is removed, the material must stop burning. This prevents the cables from "carrying" the fire to another location in the building and re-igniting unexpectedly. Sometimes Plenum cables are referred to as CL2P, OFNP, or CMP. Plenum cables are known to be more expensive than PVC, but in cases where a fire code requires plenum the cost must be factored into the overall installation job.

 

 

Low Smoke, Zero Halogen (LSZH) for Sealed or Mobile Locations

 

Jacket materials that have been designed to release very little smoke and no poisonous gas when burned are often called LSZH. These are typically reserved for special applications where the occupants near the cables may not be able to escape or ventilate the room in the instance of a fire. Again, this occurs frequently in military and aerospace applications.

 

 

Special Jacket Considerations

 

In addition to the above designations for particular fire codes, jackets may have other features useful in niche applications. UV resistance is important in applications where the cable may be exposed to strong sunlight for long periods. UV light can weaken and eventually destroy many PVC compounds over time. Or, oil resistance may be needed in many factory automation apllications as the petroleum-based compound could dissolve if immersed in oil. High-flex or hi-flex cables often use a special jacket that will not crack and split when the cables are flexed over and over again.

 

If you're looking for industry's largest selection of off-the-shelf Plenum, LSZH and other special-jacketed cable and cable assemblies, stop in at L-com's online configurator or contact customer service to get a quote started. We can custom manufacture cables with the jacket type you need.

 
© L-com, Inc. All Rights Reserved. L-com, Inc., 50 High Street, West Mill, Third Floor, Suite 30, MA 01845