The latest SANS 0142:2020 and SANS 1213:2018 standards define cable glands as devices designed to permit the entry of armoured or flexible cable or insulated conductors into an enclosure while providing sealing and retention. They also provide other important functions such as earthing, bonding, insulation, cable guarding, strain relief or combinations of these.
However, there is still a common belief in the industry that cable glands are just 'fittings' and are treated as mere everyday consumables where price often takes precedence over quality and safety when it comes to their purchase and installation.
With the primary factors affecting the safe performance of cable glands being the integrity of their mechanical design and the quality of materials used in their production, the inferior and substandard way in which low cost versions are produced undermines the design strength of the product, which in turn, carries massive implications for the integrity of electrical installations.
Brass quality in cable glands
Cable glands are manufactured from brass and then nickel plated. If the gland is made from poor quality brass and has poor quality plating the brass can be affected by exposure to atmospheric corrosion such as that found in marine and industrial environments. The result is that some of the zinc leeches out of the brass alloy, a process known as de-zincification, which reduces the strength of the gland.
To understand why the price of a low quality gland can vary from a quality product, we must look at the wider picture.
Copper and zinc are globally-traded commodities, so the cost of quality extruded brass (an alloy of copper and zinc), which is the predominant raw material in cable glands, is similar in countries around the world.
Therefore, to circumvent this level playing field, very low-cost, low-quality glands are generally manufactured from what is known as ‘heavy’ or ‘honey' brass. This brass is melted and cast from scrap metal without the strict control and guidelines of recognised international standards. Therefore, unwanted high levels of metals such as iron, tin, aluminium and nickel are found in the alloy together with other contaminants and impurities. These uncontrolled levels of impurities cause the metal to be inferior in terms of mechanical strength and there is therefore a high risk of shearing threads when tightening glands.
International standards prescribe what the required brass alloy composition and the mechanical properties should be. The mechanical properties depend on the alloy composition and, in some cases, on the amount of cold work done on the extruded brass.
Glands made from a true extruded brass alloy are strong enough to withstand any reduction in strength whilst those made using low-grade honey brass are much less able to withstand the de-zincification process.
Although the ‘honey brass’ glands have a deceptively brass-like appearance, their properties and performance will be very different to brass glands manufactured according to the international specifications for extruded brass rod and bar.
The standards that are commonly used during the manufacturing of quality extruded brass rod and bar and which prescribe the metal alloy composition for the manufacture of cable glands are:
- EN12164 CW614N Copper and copper alloys – Rod for free machining purposes.
- EN12168 CW617N Copper and copper alloys – Hollow rod for free machining purposes.
Other problems with these cheap, substandard glands include the use of substandard polymers for seals, gaskets and shrouds. Sealing materials can vary greatly in their ability to withstand attack from ozone, airborne pollutants and environmental elements such as temperature variations, and an effect known as ‘compression set’. This is where the seal material is compressed for long periods. If a low-quality seal suffers from compression set, it will eventually assume its compressed shape, which means that it no longer exerts a sealing force against the cable.
While reputable manufacturers will have tested their polymeric seals to prolonged use and exposure, inferior products using low-grade polymer materials will become weak, especially when installed outdoors, making them likely to fail.
In addition to the various safety implications of failed electrical installations, and the inconvenience inflicted on the end-user, there is the question of liability. Traceability is increasingly important in a society driven ever more by a ‘culture of blame’.
Should poor quality products be to blame for an accident or fatality, the consequences would be serious, as ultimate responsibility lies with the installer rather than with the ill-chosen product.
Unfortunately, a visual comparison of cable glands will reveal very little difference in quality. This is why specifiers, installers and inspectors should verify the quality of cable glands by confirming that they are tested and certified according to the latest SANS 1213:2020 standard; are stamped with the manufacturer’s name or logo, and sourced from reputable manufacturers.
New compulsory standards
Unscrupulous, substandard manufacturers will offer poor quality glands based purely on price with no guarantee of long-term safety and reliability. Whilst quality and safety conscious gland manufacturers ensure that their cable glands are manufactured and tested to the latest relevant international and South African standards and offer superior performance and safety.
Furthermore, it is illegal to supply products which falsely claim compliance with a SANS standard in any way. Unscrupulous manufacturers often use phrases like ‘tested to’, ‘designed to’ or ‘complies with’, which are meaningless if they do not have the test reports and certification to back up their claims.
With sub-standard, pirate copies of glands flooding the market, it is necessary to raise awareness of the compulsory safety standards in this field.
SANS 10142 is concerned with ensuring the basic safety of electrical installations. To ensure the protection of people, animals and property and the proper functioning of an installation.
Under the compliance section of the latest edition 3 of the South African wiring code SANS 0142 of 2020 it states in clause 4.1.1: “Table 4.1 gives a list of commodities and the applicable standards. The commodities given in column 1 shall comply with the applicable standards given in column 3.”
Table 4.1 lists the applicable compulsory standard for cable glands is SANS 1213.
It is also important to point out that in SANS 0142 the reference to applicable, compulsory standards always refers to the latest revision of those listed standards.
Therefore, in terms of the OHS Act, it is illegal to install cable glands that are not fully certified to the latest SANS 1213:2018 edition 3 standard. It is no use paying careful attention when selecting high-value electrical equipment for installation and then undermining the safety and reliability of the entire installation by overlooking the quality and certification of cable glands. Cable glands form an integral part of an electrical installation and the choice of gland which is not certified to the latest SANS 1213:2018 edition 3 standard can result in the whole installation being illegal and requiring costly re-work with certified glands or worse still, could result in costly failure and even injury.
Enquiries: Arthur Cameron, CCG Cable Terminations, Tel +27 (0)11 394 2020 or email@example.com