While the abundance of terms used to refer to cable drag chains can make choosing the right one a process, they all share the same purpose. With increasing automation in modern industry, these types of cable carriers have increased applications across various sectors — and they are even more crucial to operations. To ensure the drag chain will work as intended, you must first understand the parameters required for choosing the correct model and what happens when one fails.
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What Are Cable Drag Chains?
A cable drag chain is a protective covering that secures cables or hoses to keep them separated and permit movement around automated machinery. Consequently, with numerous industries embracing automation, the need for these drag chains is essential.
Not all sectors use the same terminology for drag chains. They have several other names, including:
- Cable chains
- Cable tracks
- Energy chains
- Cable drag chains
- Cable carriers
Regardless of terminology, these devices serve the same purpose. When a moving object requires cables or hydraulic hoses to move, such as automated machinery, the cables require protection. By enclosing the cables or hoses into a carrier, you prevent the pieces from tangling with each other and the machinery.
The machine also avoids unexpected shutdowns from having cables compromise its moving parts, stopping its operation. Additionally, the cable carrier can protect the hoses or cables inside from friction and excessive heat of the machinery’s operation. The temperatures of the machinery’s operation will determine the best type of material to use for the cable track.
A Brief Look Into the History of Cable Drag Chains
Cable drag chains have been an integral part of manufacturing since their introduction in the 1950s. This innovation prevented damage to cables that would otherwise hang loosely from machinery until it sustained severe enough damage to warrant replacement.
Initially, cable carriers were only made from steel. This metal was readily available due to mass production methods used for the past several decades. Plus, without the war efforts needing to use large amounts of steel, manufacturers could take advantage of this versatile material.
Though polypropylene entered the market in the 1950s, cable drag chain producers did not begin to use this flexible plastic until the 1970s. However, since then, both steel and plastic remain popular materials for cable carriers because they offer durability, flexibility and heat resistance.
Over time, cable drag chains have evolved alongside machinery. As automated machines move faster and more efficiently, cable tracks have changed their designs to keep up — and modern designs can cover longer distances than thought possible in previous decades.
Such innovation occurs with the addition of accessories such as wheels to promote smoother movement over prolonged distances. Another advancement has been the development of heavy-duty drag chains for use in tough environments, such as high-wear and high-stress operations of automated equipment.
Understanding Cable Drain Chain Structure and Materials
Cable chain constructions typically have a rectangular design that permits several hoses or cables to fit with separators in the track to prevent entanglement during use. The outside of these tracks have crossbars that provide access to the cables inside. To hold the cable drag chain to the machinery, the device uses mounting brackets on the ends.
With articulated chains on the edges, these tracks can readily bend in one direction to allow for the smooth movement of the cables without causing them to fall into the machinery or sustain heat damage. Some models offer multiple plane movements for enhanced flexibility.
To achieve the structure, most cable tracks use plastic or steel. However, there are variations on these categories of materials, allowing for multiple options to suit specific applications.
Stainless steel drag chains operate best in heavy-duty environments. They offer better thermal protection in extreme heat and more support for heavy hoses or large numbers of cables.
Flame Retardant Materials
Flame retardant cable carriers offer a solution for use in locations that pose a combustion risk. These types of carriers protect machinery and cables or hoses from fires.
A variation on steel is zinc plated steel that merges standard applications that need to carry heavyweight cables or hoses.
Cleanrooms, such as those used in pharmaceutical or semiconductor manufacturing, require equipment that does not allow dust, debris or other contaminants from the track to get into the environment. Some types of cable tracks will offer an enclosed design to provide the needed protection for use in cleanrooms.
Food service sites require equipment that includes components a magnet can pick up. These magnetic detectors protect consumers from accidental contamination of the food or drink products by pieces of machinery.
ARAW Aluminum Chains
Aluminum provides protection without excessively weighing down drag chains used for long-distance applications. These chains can protect smaller chain guides from twisting or overturning and provide an additional barrier against the elements for smaller cable tracks.
Common Applications of Cable Drag Chains
Cable drag chains have applications across several sectors and in multiple types of machines within those industries. Some industries that have a use for hose or cable conduits, including cable carriers, are:
Rail and Transit
Vehicle movers and car washes are some of the transportation industry applications for cable drag chains. These chains permit flexible or linear movement of the cables, even in applications that require heavy-duty use, such as moving extremely heavy vehicles.
Many robotics rely on power cables or hydraulics to power their components, which need to move smoothly with the machinery. Cable carriers provide this movement without damaging the integrity of the cables or the function of the robotic equipment.
Food and Beverage Manufacturing
The food and beverage sector frequently uses automated equipment. Protecting the cables with tracks keeps the systems running at their peak while allowing for labor-saving automation. Furthermore, with some options that include magnetically detectable materials for the tracks or cleanroom materials, cable carriers can protect consumers from contamination.
Metal fabrication that uses machine tools requires cable tracks to protect the delicate electrical cables from damage caused by flying metal chips or extreme heat.
Marine and Offshore Operations
One example of marine or offshore operations of cable drag chain use is in port cranes. These machines require heavy-duty components that withstand the corrosion of salt spray and extended use. Additionally, these types of tracks may make the use of cables and hydraulic hoses on offshore oil rigs simpler by protecting these cables as they move with the equipment.
Renewable energy companies may use cable drag chains for the production and transmission of green power. For equipment that requires hydraulic hoses, the use of drag chains prevents the hoses from kinking, ensuring a constant flow of hydraulic liquid to avoid interruption of functioning.
Conveyors that use drag chains may help to transport coal from collection to discharge points. These types of conveyors can solve issues apparent in transporting coal via other methods. These types of conveyors help deliver coal to proper locations throughout coal-fired power plants to assist in energy production.
Considerations for Selecting the Right Cable Drag Chain
There are several factors that go into how to choose the best cable track for your application. The material used for the cable track depends on the type needed, how you want it to move and the level of durability required. Choosing the correct drag chain can prevent premature failure of the carrier or the cables inside.
Cable Carrier Measurements
Use the sizes of the cables that will travel in the carrier to find the right track. Ensure the following track clearances based on the sizes of what is inside:
- Cables have clearances of 10% of the outer diameter of the largest cables
- Hydraulic hoses need 20% clearance of the outer diameter of the hoses
- Pneumatic lines have 15% extra space of their outer diameters
These measurements ensure the cables, lines or hoses have adequate space to move in the track without the carrier pinching them or rubbing on them, which leads to premature cable wear. To ensure the cable carrier is wide enough, add the clearances plus the diameters of all the cables, lines or hoses the track will carry.
Lastly, if you need a cable drag chain that will move around bends, use the bending radius of the largest cable in the track. The cable carrier should have a bending radius equal to or larger than this value to ensure that it will prevent strain on the cables, even when moving around turns.
Additionally, when filling the cable carriers, place cables or hoses to evenly distribute the weight. Therefore, larger cables should be on the outer sides of the track with the smaller cables inside. This arrangement can prevent uneven weight distribution that could cause the track to flip over.
Type of Cable Access
The types of carriers include varieties that allow for different access methods to the cables.
First, the nonopening type works best for small applications because you cannot access the cable from the middle of the track. The second type uses hinged crossbars to permit access to the cables. Usually, the hinges require a screwdriver or other tool to open them, which prevents accidental opening of the crossbars during use.
Open crossbar types also include options that do not require tools for putting cables into the tracks. However, these types work best when used over short distances due to the strain they may put on cables when used for long stretches.
Aside from the method of cable access, consider the type of movement required of the drag cable. Two main forms of movement exist — linear and rotary. For movement in a straight line, use linear cable tracks. However, if you need carriers that move around bends, such as machinery that sends the track around one or more turns, you will need a rotary design. Note that some rotary will only move in one direction while others permit multiple turns, ideal for robotics or automated machinery.
The durability of the cable track relates to its use. For instance, carriers used on offshore oil rigs need to stand up to harsh environmental conditions while also last for years of use due to the remote location and difficulty in making regular replacements.
Other durability considerations include whether you need temperature-resistant cable tracks made of steel or flame-resistant plastic tracks. Both types of cable drag chains work in environments with high operating temperatures and potential fire hazards.
Durability also includes whether the drag chain can continue to perform in situations with loud sounds and vibration. Flexible linked cable tracks are one option that meets these criteria. Their design makes them ideal for situations that require absorption of both sound and vibrations and for use over long distances.
Cable Drag Chain Failure Types
The failure of cable drag chains can occur in one of three places — the cable, the carrier or a systemic failure of both. Knowing these types of problems and how to prevent them can keep your investment in a cable drag chain protected and your workplace operating efficiently.
First, the cables inside a drag chain can fail. This type of issue may manifest as folded cables, twisted cables, entangled cables, loss of energy supply or cables that don’t remain within the track. Often, these problems stem from improper installation or using a too-small drag chain without enough space for the cables to move.
Carrier System Failure
The carrier itself may fail while the cables inside remain intact, which can lead to stopped work and lost productivity. Cable chain failure can happen from not installing the carrier correctly, using the wrong type of track for the application, misalignment or a lack of regular inspections of the drag chain.
Cable and Carrier System Failure
When both the cable tracks and cables fail, the entire system sustains a failure. This type of catastrophic failure most frequently happens from trying to squeeze too many cables into a track. Another cause of system failure is when there is not enough space inside the carrier but someone tries to fit in additional hoses or cables. Generally, all errors that produce this type of problem result from not respecting the need for strain relief inside the cable drag chain.
Contact AerosUSA, Inc. for Quality, Durable Cable Tracks for All Applications
When you need products that are unsurpassed in cable protection and strain relief, contact us at AerosUSA, Inc. We offer quick turnarounds on quotes and deliveries. Plus, our selection includes both pre-assembled products and customer-designed options. With a low minimum order requirement and high-quality customer service, our value makes us a top choice for experts in a variety of industries who need cable protection.
Contact us today for a quote on your cable carriers or any other of our cable protection products.