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A study has found that nine samples of Category 5e and Category 6 cable that were manufactured in China or Taiwan failed to meet all minimum U.S. requirements for electrical, physical and fire safety performance. The study was conducted by an independent laboratory on behalf of the Communications Cable and Connectivity Association (CCCA), a cabling industry trade group representing cable component manufacturers, distributors, cable manufacturers and material suppliers.
Test results showed that eight of the nine samples failed to meet the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) minimum code requirements for low flame spread or smoke safety requirements for installation in commercial buildings, schools and multi-tenant residences. Some of the samples caught on fire so dramatically that the tests had to be shut down for fear that the fire would spread to the testing equipment, says Frank Peri, executive director of the CCCA.
Of the nine samples, four were CMP or plenum cable. The other five were CMR, which is used for building riser applications or where CMP is not required. The sampled cabling was procured from North American distributors. CCCA said it wouldn’t publicize the names of the manufacturers or distributors of the cable products but confirmed that all nine samples were sold under brand names that would largely be considered “unknown” to U.S. customers.
The test results were shared with Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and Intertek (ETL), which are now conducting their own investigations, Peri says.
Currently, in order for data cable to be listed, the manufacturer sends a sample to either UL or Intertek. The labs then follow up with random field testing at the manufacturing plant. The problem, says Peri, is that it is unknown how many manufacturers are either counterfeiting or misusing the UL listing or manufacturing substandard product after they get UL approval.
As a response, CCCA proposes a new product certification program that would take samples from point-of-sale locations in North America rather than at the factory. In order to catch non-conforming product, you have to take samples from the field, Peri says.
“Catching it at the distributor level is the point,” says Peri. Peri emphasizes that not all Chinese manufacturers are producing substandard product.
Though no domestic samples were included in the initial test, all manufacturers wanting the CCCA certification would be subject to the proposed new program for compliance testing.
The certification would introduce no new testing criteria or standards. Rather it would provide an easily identified CCCA designation, much like the Good Housekeeping Seal, says Peri. Details are being discussed with UL and Intertek (ETL) on how the program would work and how samples would be tested.
Not all in the industry think a new certification is needed. Initiatives like the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, in addition to existing codes, test procedures and anti-counterfeiting programs by organizations such as the National Electrical Contractors Association provide ample certification coverage, says Frank Bisbee, president of the Communication Planning Corporation.
In the meantime, facility executives should be mindful that if a price for cabling seems too good to be true, it probably is, Peri says. He says the bulk of cabling’s cost comes from the production cost and material, not the labor. So prices should not be drastically lower just because a product is manufactured in a location where labor costs are low. When in doubt, he says, facility executives can call UL or ETL to verify the number listed on the cable.
— Naomi Millán, associate editor
Lab Report: Some Data Cabling Fails To Meet Fire Safety Standards, Group Says