Electric cables are normally installed on the assumption of a safe working life
Electric cables are normally installed on the assumption of a safe working life of at least 20 years. Changes in the insulating material take place with the passing of time and these changes, which may eventually result in an electrical breakdown, are accelerated at higher temperatures. Thus, if the working life is fixed, the limiting factor is the temperature at which the cable is required to operate.
During operation, the temperature at which the cable will operate depends upon the ambient temperature and the heating effects of the current produced due to the resistance of the cable conductors.
The heat dissipation of buried cables depends on the depth of laying, ground ambient temperature and its thermal resistivity, these being dependent on their geographical location and the season of the year. Nearby cables would also affect the ground temperature. Cables in air reach steady operating temperatures more quickly than similar cables underground and large cables take longer than small ones.
The heat may cause a change in the properties of an insulating material or in extreme cases, deformation may occur. It is important, therefore, to realise that there is “a cable for the job”.
There is a very wide range of cables designed to operate at voltages up to 400 kV. It is not possible to discuss all these in this book, but the reader is referred to a publication, Copper Cables, published by the Copper Development Association.
The majority of cables have copper conductors and in a cable these may vary from a single conductor to stranded construction.
The number of electric wire contained in most common conductors is 3, 7, 19, 37, 61 or 91. Thus, 37/0·083 indicates that the conductor has 37 wires each having a diameter of 0·083 in.
Study of electric cable used for 18 years outdoors in Romania shows that only 2% of original quantity of di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate has been lost during service life. Formulation was stabilized with lead stabilizer. Twenty percent of original stabilizer was used and required replacement in recycling process.3
A similar study in Sweden (see formulation in the next section) showed that only 1% of extractable matter was lost during 30-40 years of cable use, material was thermally stable, and mechanical performance measured by elongation changed very little. Experimental studies conducted in laboratory which simulated service life by thermal aging at 80°C and considering activation energy in Arrhenius equation at 95 kJ/mol showed that cables should perform for at least 44 years. The cables collected from field are suitable for recycling with minimal adjustments to formulation. Figure 13.19 shows that stability of insulation has linear relationship with duration of aging. Figure 13.20 shows that changes in elongation are very small.4
Degradation of insulation performance of electric cables is basically evaluated by tests and analyses. Based on the result of equipment qualification tests, subsequent analyses to confirm the integrity after a 60-year service period of cables and the result of insulation resistance measurement and insulation diagnostic tests, it has been concluded that immediate degradation of insulation performance is unlikely to occur for most types of cables.
Degradation of insulation performance is detected by the insulation resistance measurement, insulation diagnostic tests and performance tests of systems and components, which are performed during the inspection.
The Japanese government commenced a national R&D project on cable ageing to have more accurate prediction. Under this project many experiments are being performed to acquire time dependent data of cable ageing. Superposition of the time dependent data proposed by IEC 1244-2 is proposed as a suitable method to predict cable ageing.
The Japanese plant utilities conduct measurement of insulation resistance to monitor degradation of insulation performance and are planning to perform sample investigation to acquire actual degradation data of cable insulations.
An area of rubber cable technology where much research and development work has been concentrated in recent years is that of the behaviour of cables in fires. Although they may overheat when subject to current overloads or mechanical damage, electric cables in themselves do not present a primary fire hazard. However, cables are frequently involved in outbreaks of fire from other causes which can eventually ignite the cables. The result can be the propagation of flames and production of noxious fumes and smoke. This result, added to the fact that cables can be carrying power control circuits which it is essential to protect during a fire to ensure an orderly shutdown of plant and equipment, has led to a large amount of development work by cablemakers. This work has included investigations on a wide range of materials and cable designs, together with the establishment of new test and assessment techniques.
Although PVC is essentially flame retardant, it has been found that, where groups of cables occupy long vertical shafts and there is a substantial airflow, fire can be propagated along the cables. Besides delaying the spread of fire by sealing ducts at spaced intervals, an additional safeguard is the use of cables with reduced flame propagating properties. Attention has also been focused on potential hazards in underground railways, where smoke and toxic fumes could distress passengers and hinder their rescue. Initially, compounds with reduced acidic products of combustion were incorporated in cables which have barrier layers to significantly reduce the smoke generated. In the meantime, other cablemaking materials have been developed which contain no halogens and which also produce low levels of smoke and toxic fumes as well as having reduced flame propagating properties. These are now incorporated in British Standards such as BS 6724 and BS 7211.
A different requirement in many installations, such as in ships, aircraft, nuclear plant and the petrochemical industry (both on and off-shore), is that critical circuits should continue to function during and after a fire. Amongst the cables with excellent fire withstand performance, mineral insulated metal sheathed cables are particularly suited for use in emergency lighting systems and industrial installations where ‘fire survival’ is required. As fire survival requirements on oil rigs and petrochemical plants become more severe, new control cable designs have been developed to meet fire tests at 1000°C for 3h with impact and water spray also applied, and also to have low smoke and low toxic properties.
Another novel approach to fire protection in power stations and warehouses is the use of fire detector cables (Figure 31.4). These are used in a system which both detects and initiates the extinction of a fire in the relatively early stages of its growth. These cables have also been installed in shops, offices and public buildings, where the cables can be used to operate warning lights or alarms.
The starting point is the real-life cable installations, simply because any fire regulation aims at addressing real-life fires. However, realistic cable installations cannot be used in a testing and classification system. The costs will be enormous as the number of different installations is almost infinite. The solution is therefore based on the assumption that certain large-scale reference scenarios can be representative of real-life hazards and that performance requirements of the cables can be identified in these reference scenarios. The term reference scenario is here used for an experimental set-up that is deemed to represent real life.
In exact terms the representation will never be true. However, a reference scenario is created in such a way that experimental fires in the scenario will be representative of a large number of real practical cases sufficiently accurately for a regulator. The burning behaviour of cables in the reference scenarios can then be linked to the burning behaviour in standardised test procedures. This is achieved by analysing fire parameters like heat release rate, flame spread and smoke production from experiments in the reference scenario and comparing them to the standard rate. When this link is established it is possible to use measurements in the standardised tests for classification. Thus the classification of a table in a standard test will reflect a certain burning behaviour in the reference scenario which in turn is linked to real-life hazard situations.
The test used to determine the flame resistance of electric cables, signal cables, and cable splice kits is described in Title 30, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 7, Subpart K (CFR 30, 2005). The principal parts of the apparatus are a test chamber or a rectangular enclosure measuring 17 inches deep by 14 inches high by 39 inches wide (43.2 cm deep by 35.6 cm high by 99.1 cm wide) and open at the top and front. The floor or base of the chamber is lined with a noncombustible material to contain burning matter which may fall from the test specimen during a test. Permanent connections are mounted to the chamber and extend to the sample end location. The connections are used to energize the electric cable and splice specimens. The connections are not used when testing signaling cables. A rack consisting of three metal rods, each measuring approximately 3/16 inch (0.48 cm) in diameter is used to support the specimen during a test. The horizontal portion of the rod which contacts the test specimen shall be approximately 12 inches (30.5 cm) in length. A natural gas type Tirrill burner, with a nominal inside diameter of 3/8 inch (0.95 cm), is used to apply the flame to the test specimen.
For tests of electric cables and splices, a source of either alternating current or direct current is used for heating the power conductors of the test specimen. The current flow through the test specimen is regulated and the open circuit voltage is not to exceed the voltage rating of the test specimen. An instrument is used to monitor the effective value of heating current flow through the power conductors of the specimen. Also, a thermocouple is used to measure conductor temperature while the cable or cable splice kit is being electrically heated to 400 °F (204.4 °C). For the electric cable test, three specimens each three feet (0.91 m) in length are prepared by removing five inches of jacket material and two inches of conductor insulation from both ends of each test specimen.
For splice kits, a splice is prepared in each of three sections of a MSHA-approved flame-resistant cable. The cable used is the type that the splice kit is designed to repair. The finished splice must not exceed 18 inches (45.7 cm) or be less than 6 inches (15.2 cm) in length for test purposes. The spliced cables are three feet in length with the midpoint of the splice located 14 inches (35.6 cm) from one end. Both ends of each of the spliced cables are prepared by removing five inches of jacket material and two inches of conductor insulation. The type, amperage, voltage rating, and construction of the power cable must be compatible with the splice kit design.
The test specimen is centered horizontally in the test chamber on the three rods. The three rods are positioned perpendicular to the longitudinal axis of the test specimen and at the same height. This arrangement permits the tip of the inner cone from the flame of the gas burner to touch the jacket of the test specimen. For splices, the third rod is placed between the splice and the temperature monitoring location at a distance 8 inches (20.3 cm) from the midpoint of the splice. The gas burner is adjusted to produce an overall blue flame five inches (12.7 cm) high with a three-inch (7.6 cm) inner cone and without the persistence of yellow coloration. The power conductors of the test specimen are connected to the current source. The connections must be compatible with the size of the cable’s power conductors to reduce contact resistance. The power conductors of the test specimen are energized with an effective heating current value of five times the power conductor ampacity rating at an ambient temperature of 104 °F (40 °C).
The electric current is monitored through the power conductors of the test specimen with the current measuring device. The amount of heating current is adjusted to maintain the proper effective heating current value until the power conductors reach a temperature of 400 °F (204.4 °C). For electric cables, the tip of the inner cone from the flame of the gas burner is applied directly beneath the test specimen for 60 seconds at a location 14 inches (35.6 cm) from one end of the cable and between the supports separated by a 16 inch (40.6 cm) distance. For the splices made from the splice kits, the tip of the inner cone from the flame of a gas burner is applied for 60 seconds beneath the midpoint of the splice jacket. After subjecting the test specimen to the external flame for the specified time, the burner flame is removed from beneath the specimen while simultaneously turning off the heating current. The amount of time the test specimen continues to burn is recorded after the flame from the burner has been removed. The burn time of any material that falls from the test specimen after the flame from the burner has been removed is added to the total duration of flame. The length of burned (charred) area of each test specimen is measured longitudinally along the cable axis. The procedure is repeated for the remaining two specimens. For a cable or splice kit to qualify as flame resistant, the three test specimens must not exceed a duration of burning of 240 seconds and the length of the burned (charred) area must not exceed 6 inches (15.2 cm). The flame test of an electric cable is shown in Fig. 13.4 – the electric cable did not meet the test criteria.