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And geopolitically too, both small and large companies have to stay on the ball. Those who are negligent today about export and obtaining country-specific approvals or internationally binding guidelines and laws are jeopardising their good business relationships and not least their existence.
For machine builders, it is helpful to have a closer look at the product data sheet when purchasing components. If you find information there, such as country-specific approvals called UL, EAC CTP or DNV GL, you can confidently place your order. The same applies to national and international guidelines such as RoHS or REACH, which protect health and the environment.
One who buys cheap ultimately pays double the price and also often gets the red card from customs during shipping and export to the customer. Not infrequently, it means: “Unapproved components are not allowed for the time being.” The approval or compliance of cables and other components are not issues that should be left to the purchasing department.
For an estimated 60 percent of installed electrical systems – measured in terms of the total extent of a manufacturing plant – the installation of cables without approval has far-reaching economic consequences. Of course, it is possible to subsequently get such an approval for almost every plant in the scope of the commissioning on site. However, it will likely cost a lot more money due to delays at the start of production, service staff being required for longer at the customer and, last but not least, the external inspectors. Not to mention the negative impacts on your own image and customer relationships.
Safety through a multitude of tests
If, on the other hand, you already invest time in the planning phase for the selection of approved, certified and compliant cables, your overall process becomes leaner and more efficient. igus offers over a thousand types of approved control cables, servo cables, motor cables and robot cables, bus cables, data cables, encoder cables or fibre optic cables. For every metre of the chainflex cable that the customer plans and installs in their machine, a large number of approvals assure compliance with the rules, unrestricted reliability and a long service life.
Companies such as igus confront the high and dynamic market requirements through constant advancements in the in-house test laboratory. Among others, chainflex cables for moving applications in energy chains or for robotic applications are tested here for operational reliability. The result: valuable insights for research as well as development and the increase in product quality for the customer.
On average, igus performs 800 tests on chainflex cables in parallel – that adds up to more than 2 billion test strokes per year. And that's not all: 292 million double strokes for production monitoring resulting from approximately 1,561 tests per year. This performance is also achieved thanks to the 63 test stations, where just under 1.4 million electrical measurements are carried out in twelve months. The whole thing can only be topped up by more than 3,500 tests on the cables, i.e. every year. All the parameters to be assumed are simulated using a climate chamber, external tests, a noise chamber and a 130-metre-long travel or robot system.
This large number of test series and the results collected over the last 20 years now provide every customer with a clear answer to the applicability of their chosen cable for their specific needs in the igus online service life calculator. If the service life result does not fit or is too good, a less sophisticated chainflex alternative can always be selected and recalculated. An absolute unique feature is the option to secure a guarantee from igus for 36 months or alternatively for 10 million cycles for a chainflex cable.
All for one
An important element in the complex quality assurance process is testing cables according to various guidelines, such as UL approval. Machine builders need them for export and successful, smooth commissioning of plant and equipment in the USA and Canada. Cables used in maritime environments are prepared for approval by the DNV GL in the igus laboratory. The EAC and the CTP for the Eastern European region, above all for Russia, are similar to what the UL certificate is for North America.
Regardless of the location where a semiconductor or pharmaceutical production facility is running, the chainflex cables used here always require proof of their cleanroom suitability. The foundations for this test by the Fraunhofer IPA (Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation) are also laid at the igus test laboratory. Similarly designed is the test procedure for RoHS and REACH approval or conformity, which, among others, refer to the restriction of hazardous substances. It does not matter which specific approval is required. Only when all the traffic lights in the igus test laboratory are green will the external inspectors of the independent bodies, agencies and organisations be brought on site. After numerous stringent tests, they award the valuable approval certificates for the different types of cables.
Customers can source the same chainflex qualities on every continent in the world. In the 34 branches worldwide and 51 dealers, more than 1,354 cable types can be ordered without any problem, without minimum order quantities, minimum quantities, minimum quantity surcharges and, of course, without cutting charge. All that the customer needs is some time. Because only then can the best possible choice be made from the huge assortment of types.
Types of approval
The immense technical performance behind development, production and laboratory testing can only be measured by taking a close look at the stringently set parameters, which must be fully and demonstrably fulfilled before an approval is granted. The UL approval for North America is likely to be one of the most important at present due to the tough economic policy, particularly when exporting machinery to the United States should occur smoothly. This approval convinces the independent inspector from the Nationally Recognised Testing Laboratory and the so-called Electrical Inspector (authority having jurisdiction) respectively of the quality and safety of a machine.
Experienced mechanical engineers with long-standing US relationships know that regulatory requirements vary from state to state. All the companies that adhere to the highest standard – the UL approval – have maximum flexibility and freedom. Topics such as the compatibility of the cables to the large number of all US network systems play just as important a role in the UL approval as the different requirements for feeder circuits or branch circuits. Plant manufacturers with UL-approved cables are on the safe side throughout North America.
On the other side of the world – more specifically in Russia and its neighbouring countries – the EAC/CTP approval is expected in most cases by customers and customs. This certificate is the official proof of compliance with the harmonised technical regulations (TR ZU) of the participating countries of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). The CTP standard focuses on the fire behaviour of cables and the flame retardancy of the materials used.
On water, on land and in the air
At least as complex but completely independent of national borders is the DNV-GL approval. This approval for use in maritime environments focuses on topics such as the Federal Maritime Responsibilities Act or the Ship Safety Act. Today, material is only approved by the DNV GL, which takes into account the so-called Class Rules for the operation of machines in the maritime environment.
Pipe handling systems or pipe-laying ships were hardly automated until very recently, which required completely new test methods for permanently moving cables in e-chains. And to date, only chainflex cables meet these special requirements and withstand the complex test procedures. Only those that incorporate all parameters that ensure safe and stable operation of offshore installations are approved. Specifically, for example, operating temperatures down to -40°C or the UV resistance of chainflex cables. Incidentally, this also applies to a very sensitive topic in the maritime environment, working with oil. The chainflex cables are oil-resistant according to MUD NEK606; this means maximum safety for an oil rig.
This safety can be had with the RoHS II approval, which is offered by igus for its chainflex cables. RoHS stands for "Restriction of Hazardous Substances" and regulates the use of selected hazardous substances in cables such as phthalates, also known as plasticisers. REACH has a similar significance for igus. This European Union regulation has been adopted to improve the protection of human health and the environment from the risks posed by chemicals. REACH applies to all chemical substances and assumes the burden of proof on companies. For igus, this means there is complete proof that all materials used in the jacketing of chainflex cables are known and their processing and placement on the market is safe and manageable.
Maximum safety and, above all, absolute purity are also important in the regulated environment of semiconductors, medical devices and pharmaceutical production. This purity grade for its chainflex cables can be demonstrated by igus through the IPA for cleanroom classes 1 and 2. And they should know it: Only those that fulfil all conditions will receive the "Tested Device" certificate issued by the independent Fraunhofer Institute – and their cables and components are allowed to be offered, for example, for manufacturing plants for medical products.
With its variety of chainflex cables available from stock, the quality assurance measures in the igus laboratory and, last but not least, the enormous and unrivalled variety of approvals and certificates, the Cologne-based company is already thinking about tomorrow.
About the author:
Justin Leonard is director at igus, responsible for the development and management of the plastic energy chains and chainflex cables business roadmap in the UK. A graduate engineer, responsibilities during his 15-year career with igus started with external technical sales then developed into product and project management, before assuming responsibility for the whole division.
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