Meeting the specification

Chris Smeeton

A good technical specification will detail precisely what is required, from the equipment to the cables connecting it. Many specifications will give particular manufacturers and model numbers. On many occasions, this makes tendering simple and gives vendors a secure and fair way to bid.

The challenge comes when specifications are not aligned with common practice and safety standards. With a strong global shift towards consolidation, we are increasingly seeing tender documents drawn up in one geography but to be implemented at installation in another.

Global specifications are a good thing: they efnsure that equipment will work well together. It has the potential to drive down some costs, too. But some specifications are not global. Regional variations can mean what is the preferred model in one territory is discouraged, or maybe even illegal, in another.

Cable is a classic example of this challenge. Because it permeates every part of an installation – a building – cabling must be safe under all conditions.

In Europe specific requirements have been developed for structural fire safety, known as CPR (construction product regulation). CPR fundamentally analyses the reaction of cables to fire and their emission of dangerous substances. There are grades within the specification, but even the basic classification (CRP E) has to provide some resistance to fire, dripping and noxious fumes.

Implementing such standards has contributed to positive statistics: fire deaths have fallen by 65% in the last 30 years; by 56% in the UK. But fire still accounts for 4000 European deaths each year, and 70,000 hospital admissions.

Any construction or major refurbishment project in Europe is subject to CPR. But we are now routinely seeing American cable specifications in tender documents for European broadcast installations. For instance, American cables are not actually made to CPR standards.

It is important to emphasise that the electrical characteristics of European and American cables will be identical. They will provide exactly the same functionality and connectivity. But European standards demand much greater resistance to heat without melting or dripping; creating noxious fumes; or creating the potential for sparks leading to fire.

As a responsible vendor, what can we do when someone sends us a tender specification, at the bottom of which are the cable requirements, and these are for non CRP certified products?

We explain to customers why we are reluctant to supply to the specification. We advise of the potential problems of using cable which is not CPR rated. If the cable is to be used in public areas – a sports stadium, for example – it is certain to be inspected and it is likely that the contractor will be ordered to rip out failing cables and replace them. Indeed, we are now seeing regular demands for the higher CPR ratings for cables in areas of high public traffic, like stadiums.

We recently worked with sports broadcast specialists TTL Video on the major refurbishment of three football grounds. The clubs had been promoted to the Premier League, which calls for connectivity for more cameras and other facilities. The cabling is built into the stadiums, from camera positions to the area where outside broadcast trucks park on match day.

The projects involved more than 30 km of triax, SMPTE hybrid cables and 8-way coax. Argosy has worked closely with cable manufacturers like Prysmia, Draka and Belden, so we could supply all the projects’ requirements with CPR-certified cables.

But what if, despite our discussions, a customer were to insist on using the cables as specified? The legislation says that if we import cables we are classed as the manufacturer, so it is our responsibility to get them CPR tested and certified. As you can appreciate, this is neither trivial in cost nor quick to achieve.

On top of that, there is no free trade agreement between the USA and the UK or EU, so additional tariffs and clearance time apply. This, too, mitigates against deadlines.

What we can do as a vendor, is educate. System integrators need to have open conversations with their suppliers. Vendors, for their part, need to be open with customers. Users need to understand that insisting suppliers use non-compliant cable could jeopardise the safety and viability of the whole installation. So as an infrastructure specialist we do our utmost to guide and protect our customers.

A side benefit may well be that we can supply our alternative cable suggestion, with perfectly matched connectors, from stock, meaning cabling projects can get under way immediately.

Tags: CPR specification | argosy cable | fire safe cable | eu standard cable | chris smeeton | Chris Smeeton
Contributing Author Chris Smeeton

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