Cable Labels – They’re Not All The Same
When considering cable labels, many engineers have the same idea “If they look the same – they are the same”. However, just because they look identical, doesn’t mean they are!
It is becoming increasingly important to READ product information and look for independent testing before selecting a label type.
Spot the Differences...
From this picture, all of these labels look identical, but they’re not! Each is manufactured by a different labelling company and will perform differently. To the naked eye it is hard to see any differences, making it nearly impossible for engineers to differentiate and find the best product for their application.
This article is aimed to help engineers find a suitable product for their individual projects, helping them save time, and money. Choosing the right product now can have HUGE time and cost advantages – and since labelling is usually completed at the end of a project, it can be the difference from finishing the job on time or being late.
This article compares 6 different manufacturers of labelling solutions, used in mass transit, to discover what the performance of their labels would actually be like.
Do you struggle to find relevant and up to date information regarding labels and testing?
Firstly let’s look at UV stability.
Labels are commonly placed outside. It is essential that your label will not fade, crack or fall off due to UV exposure.
The test to look for on company data sheets is UV Weathering - ISO 4982 Part 3 Method A Cycle 1. This is probably the most widely used UV weathering tester in the world. The test involves an 8 hour cycle of intense UV at 60°C, followed by a 4 hour period of condensation at 50°C.
The condensation is produced by heating a water pan in the base of the machine, producing evaporation; this causes condensation of purified water on the samples which are mounted at an angle above the pan. This is important in the degradation process in that it assists in the propagation of cracks and in the case of self-adhesive labels, will also encourage disbonding.
From the labelling companies, research suggests:
- One manufacturer simply stated “UV stable”.
- While another referred to limited tests.
- One made passing reference to it.
- Others made no mention of UV at all, and
- One was clear: 8000 hours independent accelerated UV ageing all colours followed by a flex test.
Independent Testing results
One label cracked after just 3000 hours exposure
So what about LS0H?
From what we could find all manufacturers claimed that their labels were “Halogen Free”.
Difficulty actually digging up information except two companies, one for example specifically referred to independent tests:
BS 6853:1999 Annex D.8.3 Smoke Density (The purpose of the test is to determine the performance of a specimen of a product when it is subjected to the conditions of tests specified in BS 6853:1999 ‘Code of practice for fire precautions in the design and construction of passenger carrying trains’ Annex D.8.3 ‘Small-scale test’.)
BS 6853:1999 Annex B.1 Toxic Fume (The purpose of the test is to determine the performance of a specimen of a product when it is subjected to the conditions of tests specified in BS 6853:1999 ‘Code of practice for fire precautions in the design and construction of passenger carrying trains’ Annex B.1 ‘Toxic fume test’.)
BS EN ISO 4589-2:1999 Oxygen Index (The purpose of the test is to determine the performance of a material when it is tested in accordance with BS EN ISO 4589-2:1999 ‘Plastics - Determination of burning behaviour by oxygen index Part 2 Ambient - temperature test’.)
This was difficult again a number of companies referred to “Halogen Free” but this is not the same as LS0H (Low Smoke Zero Halogen).
Both claim to be flame resistant...
2 companies referred to UL94 V0 highest standard for this test. The purpose of the test is to assess the performance of specimens cut from a polymeric sheet when tested in accordance with the procedure specified in UL 94 Section 8 'Vertical burning test' for V0, V1 or V2 rating.
It can be very hard for busy engineers to work their way through the maze of products and information. It can be quite a daunting task, and to choose a label takes a lot of time! All companies may have the relevant testing and approvals for their labels, but from research, only 1 company made this information readily available, and easy for busy engineers to fine. But from most companies, it generally proved difficult to find the information.
Preparation/Production – THE HARDWARE
Most of the companies looked at for this article use German thermal printing machines. Some offer printer options and ribbons - which can get confusing if you have a different ribbon (which also look identical) for each label type.
One company exclusively uses a Japanese machine with just one printer and one ribbon.
Start-up costs appear to vary between companies, and can be quite high – one company offered clear start-up cost of £400 including printer, software and ribbon.
German and Japanese printers
General running costs/maintenance?
Replacement part cost on German machines can be high and take time. Japanese machine lower cost, replace whole machine. Setting up and preparing labels can be time consuming and wasteful of material.
Some printers can create lots of wasted material
One company can print 25000 labels in just 4 hours!
Speed of printing
Both the German and Japanese machines were fast, Time is money!
One company out of the six has developed a way to offer the option of printing 2 rolls of heat shrink/non-shrink at same time - this process is called cross ferruling. This makes printing faster and enables a more economical use of the ribbon.
Cross ferruling is a quick way of printing idents for both ends of a cable at the same time - making an engineers job easier and less time consuming.
Replacing the ribbon
All German machines handled a 300 Meter ribbon, but where these companies offered smaller machine alternatives these appeared to be only 90 Meter ribbons.
The company with the smaller Japanese machine handled a 300 Meter ribbon.
Changing ribbon on Japanese machine straightforward. German machine it proved a little more intricate.
Both German and Japanese machines can easily be used in open office. But always check for the quietness of printer!
Getting information on software and operation is also quite difficult.
One company offered a FULL free trial download. One company offered free updates from a web based update functionality. One company offered low cost start with a seamless upgrade path.
Look carefully at the data sheets to see what you can extract. Ask questions because the choice now can affect time on a project and cost and time later down the track!
Having read this article you should have a better understanding on what to be looking for in a labelling solution. By sticking to these things, it will ensure your label is durable, time and cost effective, and suitable for your needs.
More Product Testing Information
- Product Testing
Follow this link to see an extensive list complete with detailed descriptions which one labelling company has subjected all label types to.
- Product Datasheets
One companies produces product data sheets, stating what testing has been performed on each label type. Making it easier for customers to see durability, and ensure suitability.
Silver Fox Limited
We specialise in the design, development and manufacture of labels and labelling solutions.
Fast and durable identification of cables, wires, optical fibres, panels and equipment.
Market leading manufacturer for the Energy, Transportation and Data and Telecommunications markets worldwide.