16th Edition (reference only) – NOW superseded by the 17th Edition IEE Regulations.

chapter 5

chapter 6

Cables, conduits and trunking
  4.1 - Cable insulation materials 4.4 - Cable supports, joints and terminations
  4.2 - Cables 4.5 - Cable enclosures
  4.3 - Cable choice 4.6 - Conductor and cable identification

4.1 - Cable insulation materials

For many years wiring cables were insulated with vulcanised natural rubber (VIR). Much cable of this type is still in service, although it is many years since it was last manufactured. Since the insulation is organic, it is subject to the normal ageing process, becoming hard and brittle. In this condition it will continue to give satisfactory service unless it is disturbed, when the rubber cracks and loses its insulating properties. It is advisable that wiring of this type which is still in service should be replaced by a more modern cable. Synthetic rubber compounds are used widely for insulation and sheathing of cables for flexible and for heavy duty applications. Many variations are possible, with conductor temperature ratings from 60°C to 180°C, as well as resistance to oil, ozone and ultra-violet radiation depending on the formulation.

Dry paper is an excellent insulator but loses its insulating properties if it becomes wet. Dry paper is hygroscopic, that is, it absorbs moisture from the air. It must be sealed to ensure that there is no contact with the air. Because of this, paper insulated cables are sheathed with impervious materials, lead being the most common. PILC (paper insulated lead covered) is traditionally used for heavy power work. The paper insulation is impregnated with oil or non-draining compound to improve its long-term performance. Cables of this kind need special jointing methods to ensure that the insulation remains sealed. This difficulty, as well as the weight of the cable, has led to the widespread use of p.v.c. and XLPE (thermosetting) insulated cables in place of paper insulated types.

Polyvinyl chloride (p.v.c.) is now the most usual low voltage cable insulation. It is clean to handle and is reasonably resistant to oils and other chemicals. When p.v.c. burns, it emits dense smoke and corrosive hydrogen chloride gas. The physical characteristics of the material change with temperature: when cold it becomes hard and difficult to strip, and so BS 7671 specifies that it should not be worked at temperatures below 5°C. However a special p.v.c. is available which remains flexible at temperatures down to -20°C.

At high temperatures the material becomes soft so that conductors which are pressing on the insulation (eg at bends) will 'migrate' through it, sometimes moving to the edge of the insulation. Because of this property the temperature of general purpose P.V.C. must not be allowed to exceed 70°C, although versions which will operate safely at temperatures up to 85°C are also available. If p.v.c. is exposed to sunlight it may be degraded by ultra-violet radiation. If it is in contact with absorbent materials, the plasticiser may be 'leached out' making the p.v.c. hard and brittle.

LSF (Low smoke and fume)
Materials which have reduced smoke and corrosive gas emissions in fire compared with p.v.c. have been available for some years. They are normally used as sheathing compounds over XLPE or LSF insulation, and can give considerable safety advantages in situations where numbers of people may have to be evacuated in the event of fire.

Thermosetting (XLPE)
Gross-linked polyethylene (XLPE) is a thermosetting compound which has better electrical properties than p.v.c. and is therefore used for medium- and high-voltage applications. It has more resistance to deformation at higher temperatures than p.v.c., which it is gradually replacing. It is also replacing PILC in some applications. Thermosetting insulation may be used safely with conductor temperatures up to 90°C thus increasing the useful current rating, especially when ambient temperature is high. A LSF (low smoke and fume) type of thermosetting cable is available.

Provided that it is kept dry, a mineral insulation such as magnesium oxide is an excellent insulator. Since it is hygroscopic (it absorbs moisture from the air) this insulation is kept sealed within a copper sheath. The resulting cable is totally fireproof and will operate at temperatures of up to 250°C. It is also entirely inorganic and thus non-ageing. These cables have small diameters compared with alternatives, great mechanical strength, are waterproof, resistant to radiation and electromagnetic pulses, are pliable and corrosion resistant. In cases where the copper sheath may corrode, the cable is used with an overall LSF covering, which reduces the temperature at which the cable may be allowed to operate. Since it is necessary to prevent the ingress of moisture, special seals are used to terminate cables. Special mineral-insulated cables with twisted cores to reduce the effect of electromagnetic interference are available.


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Extracted from The Electricians Guide Fifth Edition
by John Whitfield

Published by EPA Press Click Here to order your Copy.

Click here for list of abbreviations