Technological advancements make wires and cables more reliable and adaptable

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By Richa Chakravarty

The wires and cables industry in India is distinctly divided into organised and unorganised manufacturers and suppliers. With major customers being the power and telecommunication firms, the industry is witnessing a 25-30 per cent annual growth.

Types of wires and cables and the key players

Product wise, the wires and cables industry is divided into power and telecommunications (networking). Power cables are usually made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), while the telecommunications sector uses polyethylene (PE). Power cables consist of three types of products depending upon the intensity of power. The low tension sector requires cables for up to 1.1 kV, and needs PVC insulation and jacketing. The medium tension power cables are for capacities that range between 1.1 kV and 11 kV, and they are made of PE as well as PVC. The high tension cables transmit power beyond 11 kV. This requires the use of only PE. The low tension cables are used for the tertiary distribution of power mainly from the sub-station to buildings. It also includes housing wires. The medium tension cables generally use silane cross linkable PE compounds, while the high tension cables use continuous vulcanisation cables made from PE. Telecommunication cables are usually made from PE because of its good insulation characteristics. The conducting material can be copper or aluminium, with insulating material being PVC, cross-linked polyethylene (XLPE), elastomers or paper.

NEW TECHNOLOGIES LEAD TO NEW TYPES OF PRODUCTS

Technological advancements in wires and cables are taking place in different application industries, backed by changing government standards and constant innovations.

“In the wires and cables industry, technological development falls into two categories—insulation and voltage grade. By offering better quality polymers and reducing thickness, the desired electrical and mechanical properties can be achieved, along with higher voltage,” informs Tarun Chugh, vice president, Universal Cables Ltd (UCL). The company is one of the leading manufacturers offering the widest range of cables in the country, and has its manufacturing unit in Satna (MP).

Teflon cables in demand: For low voltage and communications applications, PVC is still the predominant choice for insulation material. But stricter smoke and flame regulations have also encouraged materials such as polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE, or teflon), because of its low smoke and flame spread properties. Teflon cables find application in modern automobiles due to their ability to resist higher temperatures. They are also light.

“Teflon cables have an advantage over PVC cables because while a PVC cable can stand only 70° celsius, a teflon cable can stand temperatures up to 250° celsius. Thus, demand for teflon cables is bound to rise in the near future,” says Rakesh Goyal, director, Chetan Cabletronics Pvt Ltd. The company manufactures and exports networking cables.

Polycab Wires Pvt Ltd has its own insulation compounding unit with a capacity of 3600 tonnes/month for the most consistent quality of PVC, FR, FRLS, HRFR and FRZH for the insulation of wires and cables.

Modified PVC (FRLS-PVC): PVC has a long history of use in the cable industry because of its many positive properties such as flame resistance, oil resistance and superior mechanical properties. However, normal PVC cables, when on fire, produce huge amount of black smoke, which completely obscures visibility. Thus, in recent years, there has been a shift towards a less harmful PVC compound known as fire retardant low smoke PVC (FRLS-PVC). Cables made of this compound emit limited smoke in case of fires, obscuring only about 60 per cent of the visibility. Recent trends indicate that FRLS-PVC is gaining popularity due to its limited smoke emission property and also because the toxicity of the gases released during combustion is low.

LSOH, a tough contender: Low smoke zero halogen (LSOH) polymer is also gaining popularity as it reduces the probability of fire hazards. Amongst various types of halogen free polymers, polyolefin is most widely used in LSOH cables. The benefits of LSOH when compared to PVC are many. The former releases much less smoke in comparison to PVC. The combustion gas is free from halogen acid and, hence, results in no corrosion. Its toxicity index is well within specified limits and is not fatal. “Since there is an increase in the price of copper, manufacturers are moving towards using different types of conductors. These new types are in demand since they are also cheaper substitutes. Also, new types of insulation are being used which are human friendly, biodegradable and non-hazardous,” says Rakesh Goyal.

HDMI cables take the lead: Due to the growth of the audio-video market, high definition multimedia interface (HDMI) cables, the digital interface connector that transmits both video and audio signals, are in great demand. “HDMI cables can be used to replace all cable connections between a high definition television and other high definition devices, such as a Blu-ray player. Currently, HDMI version 1.4 is available, which is used in 3D TV and is also useful for faster Internet”, informs Mihir Shah, director, Miti Associates. Established in 2000, the company is among the leading manufacturers of audio-video cables with there brand name KROME.

Optic fibre cables: These are technological improvement over jelly filled cables in terms of transmission, speed and capacity to transmit low power signals. A single cable has the capacity to transmit signals ranging from a few kilobytes to hundreds of gigabytes. Fibre optics is a particularly popular technology for local area networks (LAN). In addition, telephone companies are steadily replacing traditional telephone lines with fibre optic cables. These cables are gaining popularity over traditional metal communication cables for the simple reason that they can offer greater bandwidth than metal cables, which also means that they can carry more data. Also, fibre optic cables are less susceptible to interference than metal cables, and are much thinner and lighter. However, these cables are expensive.

Graduating to higher voltage

Apart from moving towards biodegradable and non-hazardous conductors, manufacturers are also graduating to higher voltages. Today, almost all manufacturers in the country make high voltage cables. Earlier, cables were available at 66 kV, but today the manufacturers are offering up to 220 kV. UCL takes a lead here by manufacturing extra high voltage cables in the range of 220 kV to 400 kV. Other companies like RPG Cables and Cable Corporation of India are also graduating to higher voltages by offering the buyer power/control cables ranging from 250 V to 230 kV.

One of the compelling reasons for this upward trend is the demand for such extra high voltage cables (especially for defence use in submarine cables), and UCL is one of the first to introduce vertical continuous vulcanisation (VCV) technology in India in technical collaboration with Furukawa Electric Co Ltd, Japan. There are two XLPE extrusion lines, one catenary continuous vulcanisation (CCV) and another VCV. Today, with this technology, global players are able to manufacture XLPE cables up to a voltage of 550 kV.

Challenges faced by buyers

As the wires and cables industry is made up of both organised and unorganised players, buyers face a number of challenges while making a purchase decision. The two sectors exhibit significant differences in product quality and capacity. While the organised sector has been manufacturing high voltage and speciality cables, the unorganised sector limits itself to, the relatively low voltage market. While the organised segment caters to the industrial market and pays heed to quality, the unorganised sector thrives on the cheap availability of products, thus making good profit margin. Unfair trade practices rule this market, where small cable companies compete by selling products of dubious quality at low prices. Though such a ‘grey market’ exists in other countries as well, it is particularly a big problem in India.

“Trust and reliability are major challenges faced by the buyer. Competition beyond a certain extent is counter-productive. Finding out legitimate reasons for reducing cost is fine but once this avenue is completely exhausted, manufacturers tend to find some other ways of reducing cost, and play around with raw materials of doubtful quality. Cables are a raw material intensive product; so if you manipulate the raw materials, you make huge profits. However, though this might pay off in the short term, in the long run, it does not. Thus, a buyer has to be very careful while opting for an unknown brand,” opines Tarun Chugh.

Product quality is another area in which buyers face a dilemma. Since the market is huge and various brands are available, it is a challenge for a buyer to choose a good quality product. Since all the leading brands in the country offer quality products, the choice becomes tough.

Apart from quality, price is another factor where a buyer faces problem. As the price of copper directly affects the price of wires and cables, those involved in the wires and cables industry—both manufacturers and customers—are affected by any fluctuation in copper prices. The manufacturer either has to play with the quality to offer a good price and make a huge profit (for himself), or offer a quality product with a small profit margin.

Buying tips

Consumers opting for wires and cables should always understand their consumption patterns. Choosing an adequate wire or cable for any purpose is very important. “Buyers must understand that the quality of the conductor and of the insulator plays a vital role in the manufacture of wires and cables. If they opt for low quality insulation material, it affects the life of the cable, and the buyer will end up spending more because about 0.9 per cent of the cost of wires and cables is the cost of the raw material. Many manufacturers try to cut down this cost, compromising on the quality of raw material. This directly affects the performance in the long run,” adds Rakesh Goyal. “The customer must understand that quality plays an important role in the performance of any product. The two major ingredients in cable—conductor and insulator—both must be of appropriate standard for the end products performance” says Naveen Gupta, director, Chetan Cabletronics Pvt Ltd.

Apart from quality, requirement of appropriate quantity is another factor that should be kept in mind while making a purchase decision. “Buyers should first get an assessment on their requirement before taking the next step. Then they should evaluate the brands on the basis of quality, brand image, lineage and price. The trend shows that customers are shifting from the unorganised to the organised sector, which means they are more quality and brand conscious,” adds Mithun Chittilappilly, executive director, V-Guard Industries Ltd.

There are many key distinctions among similar looking cables. Parameters like the number of conductors, size and construction, geometry between pairs, shielding, insulation, jacketing and cable configuration should all be kept in mind before selecting the cable. The technical specifications to be aware of are capacitance, resistance, attenuation and impedance. Similarly, the type of networking protocol and related bandwidth are important factors in determining the type of networking cable to be chosen.

Currently, the most common protocol for data networking is Ethernet and specific Ethernet protocols may be selected by bandwidth such as 10 megabit, 100 megabit, 1000 megabit (or 1 gigabyte) and 10 gigabyte. Thus, buyers should also be technically aware. It is recommended that they opt for a reliable brand rather than buying from the grey market.

Different types of cables and their applications

The basic types of cables available in the market today are coaxial cables, multi-core cables (consisting of more than one wire and covered by a cable jacket), ribbon cables, shielded cables, single cables, twisted pairs and twisting cables. Based on their construction and properties, cables come in different varieties—mineral insulated copper clad cables, twinax cable and flexible cables. On the basis of insulation materials, there are PVC cables, teflon cables, etc.

The cables used in the electronics industry are low tension cables. In the audio-video sector, what is used are composite cables, S-video cables, component RGB cables, RCA stereo cables, SPDIF digital cables, sub-woofer cables; toslink optical, coaxial and camcorder cables; USB cables, camera cables, fire wire cables, serial parallel cables, HDMI cables, etc.

In the networking segment, for special cabling needs at ATMs, data centres, Ethernet networking, twisted pair cabling systems are used which have been broken up into categories.

In the automobile sector, brake cables, clutch cables, throttle cables, starting cables, gear shift cables, choke cables, speedometer and tachometer cables, window regulator cables, mirror cable assemblies, seat recliner cables, latch release cables, etc, are in use.

Flexible cables are used for portable devices, mobile tools and machinery. Coaxial cables are used as a transmission line for radio frequency signals, in applications such as connecting radio transmitters and receivers with their antennas, computer network (Internet) connections and distributing cable television signals.

Similarly, while multi-core cables are frequently used in the professional audio industry, ribbon cables (also known as multi-wire planar cables) are commonly applied in internal peripherals in computers.

Key Manufacturers

POWER CABLES

Manufacturers                                     Websites

Cable Corporation of India                    www.cablecorporation.net

Finolex Cables (also in networking cables) www.finolex.com

Hindusthan Vidyut Cables Ltd                  www.hindusthanvidyut.com

Paramount Cables (also in networking cables)  www.paramountcables.com

Polycab Wires Pvt Ltd                                        www.polycab.com

RPG Cables                                                      www.rpgcables.com

Uniflex Cables (also in networking cables)          www.uniflexcable.com www.unicab.com

Universal Cables Ltd (also in networking cables)   www.unistar.co.in

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NETWORKING CABLES

Manufacturers                                     Websites

Aksh Optifibre                                     www.akshoptifibre.com

Belden                                                www.belden.com

Birla Ericsson                                     www.birlaericsson.com

Bhagyanagar Metals                           www.surana.com

Chetan Cabletronics Pvt Ltd                      chetancabletronics.tradeindia.com

Falcon Cables (Hitech Products Pvt Ltd)        www.falconcables.in

Gujarat Telephone Cables ­

Miti Associates                                    www.kkrome.com

Optical Cable Corporation                   www.occfiber.com

Sterlite Technologies                           www.sterlitetechnologies.com

Tri-Com (JCI Cables)                           jcicables.tradeindia.com

UM Cables                                             www.umcablesltd.com

V-Guard Industries Ltd                          www.vguard.in

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