Wire and cable management is part business management

BUSINESS MANAGEMENT INVOLVES DIRECTION and manipulation of the company’s resources—including human, financial, material or intellectual properties. A company’s wiring and cabling can be considered as material items that can—and should—be managed, because these are resources that can be deployed and accounted for efficiently, while at the same time improving the company’s market position. Knowing how much cabling is in a building, where it travels and what it connects to does two things for building owners or tenants: it saves time and money when troubleshooting user problems, and it contributes to the asset management program of the company (see Figure 1).

There are many ways or methods of managing a commercial building’s wiring and cabling achieve those goals. These management methods can be carried out by cable sharing, designing to meet environmental (or green) building criteria, using cabling management hardware or implementing a cabling management software program. What follows is descriptions of those four methods.

Cable sharing

A concept that works well is called “cable sharing,” which means running more than one application over different pairs of a twisted-pair copper telecom channel. The practice can reduce costs, simplify cable management and bring applications onto one type of media in commercial building environments.

You can support different applications on one media type (Category 7 of Class F cabling) in commercial building environments because the fully shielded and often doubly protected cabling systems can deliver on sharing techniques. Since network bandwidth needs are increasing, numbers of connections are rising, and since networking applications are more demanding, cable sharing is a viable concept.

Advantages of cable sharing are many, but there are two basic configurations where it can be put to good use—those are in call centers and fax centers where agents are typically arranged in work groups and are supported by both an analog phone and Internet connection. Another benefit of cable sharing regarding cable management is in the reduced number of outlets that reduces cable management complexity.

Green buildings

Green or sustainable building design means creating a building that has lower operating costs for energy, water and maintenance and yet is functional and safe, while making smaller demands on the local infrastructure (energy, water utilities, etc.).

Buildings can qualify as green when environmental, health and safety aspects are considered and measures are implemented to meet specific criteria. This can be done by using solar power or other renewable energy, water conservation or by building a safer structure using efficient materials. Cabling assists with safety and “efficient materials” because that high-performance green building can meet those considerations.

The wiring (for power or data) can be insulated with material(s) that meet safety standards and it can be tested to perform to those standards. The cabling would have a National Research Test Lab’s “mark” on it. And the wiring/cabling must be installed to the methods/standards included in the National Electrical Code (NEC).

Other approaches to efficiency can be to pull extra strands of fiber or copper for future systems when doing an installation, which doesn’t add a lot of extra cost and actually saving on labor; using a structured cabling system (SCS) to reduce labor and material costs, and keep the infrastructure clean for easier moves, adds and changes; and considering the removal and recycling of abandoned cable, as debatable as it is, because it may improve the “health” quality of a building and reduce the temptation to abandon copper in inaccessible locations.

Not only can the user take steps to be environmentally conscious, but the manufacturer of cabling-related products can as well.

“As a member of USGBC [U.S. Green Building Council], we are committed to the use of recycled materials in our products, eliminating waste in areas like manufacturing and packaging and reducing environmental hazards such as high-VOC paints,” said Tony Laraia, Wiremold/Legrand plant manager.

Cable management hardware

Cable management hardware helps the installation because it basically directs the wiring along a specific path.

There are many types of wire and cable management products on the market to help professionally secure or hold the cabling under a floor, alongside a wall, above the ceiling, or in the air handling (plenum) spaces. These products also contribute to the efficiency and safety of a building because they are meant to direct the path of cabling throughout or outside a building, and also bring power and cabling from the point of entrance in a building to the workstation. This management hardware can be either continuous (like a pathway) or non-continuous (such as J-Hooks), while the installation is directed by the NEC.

Benefits of using management hardware come in the form of saving labor while adding to a building’s aesthetics. For example, Wiremold makes an “on-wall” raceway system—in addition to a wide variety of pathway solutions—that easily accommodate changes in workspace and in cabling technology—it is easy to access. And, since raceways are more visible than in-wall systems, they are aesthetically pleasing.

Snake Tray also makes a well known form of cabling management hardware.

Cable management software

Cable management software helps a company manage its assets by documenting the cabling’s path within or outside a building or between buildings. A database contains an account for anything associated with the cabling, voice or data communications. There is also TIA’s 606-A standard titled, “Administration Standard for the Telecom Infrastructure,“ that the datacom industry can use as guidance for marking those cables.

Not following any particular rules or guidelines for cable management is indicative of an unprofessional installation. If a building owner doesn’t require that a cable documentation system be setup, he or she is throwing information away. For safety and efficiency reasons, it is necessary to keep the cabling information current for the lifetime of the infrastructure. Some users may devise their own way of documenting a system, while others may choose to follow industry guidelines.

A main benefit of using cable management software is asset management. How does it accomplish that and why is that significant? First, the method of labeling connectors and cables making up a network drastically improves the efficiency of identifying, locating, and fixing problems.

Identifiers (such as A-1 for cable “1” going to Telecom Room “A”) must be maintained because they make up a report generated from the software package for the entire voice and data network. Second, daily updates are necessary, because the value that the cost of those updates brings to the corporate table is significant.

Some software packages can document horizontal and backbone cables, hardware, assets, pathways, locations, users and more. Potentially, the software can generate a single report that shows management how many nodes are on which networks, how many phones are in use, who uses them, and where and how much cabling is run between telecom rooms and building floors—all comprising assets of the company.

Without documentation, there is no knowledge of the scope of IT or telecom or facilities’ responsibilities, the communication activities of different departments, or of the value of IT-related assets—company assets.

Finding cable management products

Distributors handle electrical and datacom cable management products. There are the continuous products such as pathways, and the noncontinuous products such as brackets and fasteners. Manufacturers sometimes have manufacturing reps who can sell the products.

Another approach would be for a buyer or contractor to do an Internet search for manufacturers that leads to how and where to buy their product(s). It is important to note that the products have to meet the requirements of the NEC wiring methods, are UL listed and meet the Canadian Electrical Code.

The software management products can be found by searching for “cable management software or components” on the Internet. Another way to see, firsthand, what any of these products look like and what they do, is to attend a voice or data-oriented trade show to visit the exhibits. It is a place where you can check out the product in person and find contact information leading to a quote, a purchase and even an installation.

For more information on how cabling/wiring can support a green building, investigate what a green building is and then find out what cable or wire physical properties can improve a building’s safety or health environment (see www.USGBC.org).

Lastly, cable sharing is relatively new and you would want to discuss it with a vendor who is highly regarded in the industry and who is also experienced with the latest physical layer products—one who can educate you and justify the reasons for top quality and new hardware.

What to do next

There are many solutions on the market today. You can either decide what you need and do an installation, or you can get pricing and warranty information and present this to your customer first. The more you can do to make a customer’s life easier and protect them from defects and poor workmanship, the more they will rely on you for your expertise. You can make sure they understand the advantages of wire and cable management, are getting the benefit of reliable and quality products, are getting a professional installation and, if appropriate, that they are eligible for a warranty on parts and labor. EC

MICHELSON, president of Business Communication Services, is an expert in TIA/EIA performance standards who writes articles and update reports for clients, and provides other industry guidance on her Web site www.bcsreports.com.

 

GLOSSARY

NRTL National Research Test Lab

SCS Structured cabling system or a set of cabling and connectivity products that integrate the voice/data/video, and various management systems of a building, such as safety alarms, security access, energy systems, etc.

TIA Telecommunications Industry Association

UL Underwriters Laboratories Inc.

USGBC U.S. Green Building Council

VOC Volatile organic compound (paints)