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Cable management refers to an important step during the installation of building services (i.e. electrical services) and the subsequent installation of equipment providing means to tidily secure electrical, data, and other cables. The term is often used interchangeably to refer to products used for the purpose of managing cables or to the workmanship carried out to cables whilst being installed. Cable management is important in many fields, such as IT, communications, power distribution, facility wiring, local area networks, etc.
The purpose of cable management is twofold: to support the cables whilst being routed through the building from Point A to B (often called containment), and to make subsequent management of the cables through the lifetime of the installation easier.
Typically, products such as cable trays, cable ladders, and cable baskets are used to support a cable through cabling routes. The IT industry has special needs because, unlike heavy power cables, data cables often need to be added, moved, or removed many times during the life of the installation. It is usual practice to install "fixed cables" between cabling closets or cabinets. These cables are contained in cable trays etc., and are terminated at each end onto patch panels in the communications cabinet or outlets at the desktop. The circuits are then interconnected to the final destination using patch cords. The difficulty is that these patch cords are installed, removed and reinstalled many times during the life of the installation.
Cables can easily become tangled, making them difficult to work with, sometimes resulting in devices accidentally becoming unplugged as one attempts to move a cable. Such cases are known as "cable spaghetti".
Generally, one end of a cable is terminated in the data cabinet. The other end of a cable ends at the desk. The cable management needs at either end are different.
Buildings and office furniture are often designed with cable management in mind; for instance, desks sometimes have holes to pass cables, and dropped ceilings and raised floors provide easy access. Some cables have requirements for minimum bend radius or proximity to other cables, particularly power cables, to avoid crosstalk or interference. Power cables often need to be grouped separately and suitably apart from data cables, and only cross at right angles which minimizes electromagnetic interference.
The organized routing of cables inside the computer case allows for optimal airflow and cooling. Good cable management also makes working inside a computer much easier by providing safer hardware installation, repair, or removal. Some PC mod enthusiasts showcase the internal components of their systems with a window mod, which displays the aesthetics of internal cabling as well as the skills and wealth of the modder.
The choice of cables is also important; for instance, ribbon cables used to connect Parallel ATA drives to the motherboard can disrupt the airflow inside of computers, making case fans less effective; most SATA cables are more compact and therefore do not have this problem.
Color-coding of cables is sometimes used to keep track of which is which. For instance, the wires coming out of ATX power supplies are color coded by voltage. Documenting and labeling cable runs, tying related cables together by cable ties, cable lacing, rubber bands or other means, running them through cable guides, and clipping or stapling them to walls are other common methods of keeping them organized. Above drop ceilings, hooks or trays are used to organize cables and protect them from electrical interference
Planning is especially crucial for cables such as Thicknet that do not bend around corners easily and fiber optic which is very difficult to splice once cut.
In hospital situations, cable management can be critical to preventing medical mistakes. Emergency room nurse manager Pat Gabriel said, "My wish is that we could somehow not have spaghetti on the bed. When you look at all those wires and those IVs, it's just spaghetti".
Cable management is particularly important in powered equipment which must move large distances while tethered to a power source and control cabling. There are several common methods of cable management.
With a suspended sliding coil, the cables are coiled like a spring, with each loop of the coil attached to a sliding shoe on a track. As the cabling is played out, the shoes slide individually along the track and the coils expand. When sliding the other direction, the coils fold back together into a compact spiral.
Folded linear cable uses either a flexible backbone shell, or a flat cable folded into an arc along its long axis. This style of cabling is very common in computer printers to connect the printhead to the circuitry, but is also used in very large linear moving gantries. The cables are flexed only in a small region in a tight radius and so need to be very flexible.
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