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Power to the people prompts new cable ideas

Wire and cable markets are moving east from Western Europe in search of lower labor and production costs.

That is the outcome of a study presented by Kurt Eder, VP of the International Wire and Cable Exhibitors Assn. (IWCEA) at the Wire 2006 show in Düsseldorf, Germany during the spring. He doesn''t expect major projects to expand in developed countries; at most, obsolete equipment will be replaced, often with second-hand units. Instead the action is playing out mainly in Asia/Pacific and Eastern Europe.

Due to cost pressures, wire producers are offshoring part of their production to low-wage countries and Heinz Rockenhäuser, general manager of Maschinenfabrik Niehoff (Schwabach, Germany), says German producers are increasingly concentrating on specialty cables with standard wire products farmed out to low-wage countries.

As an example, cable and onboard wiring manufacturer Leoni (Nuremberg, Germany) created 8500 new jobs in wire production in 2004, mainly in Eastern Europe. "This is the only way to secure the 3000 jobs [at its plant] in Germany," says Klaus Probst, Leoni''s chairman of the board.

Nevertheless, the atmosphere at the Wire show was substantially more positive than it was two years ago. Equipment makers say they are seeing demand arising particularly from the power sector (see sidebar).

"With the increasing demand for more energy, electricity suppliers are seeing the need for more high-voltage power cable production," says Pentti Hätälä, CEO of extrusion equipment manufacturer Maillefer (Ecublens, Switzerland). Demand is coming particularly from areas such as Russia, China, Latin America, and some countries in the Middle East that are trying to catch up after years of deficiency in infrastructure investment.

To serve this sector, Maillefer has come out with an extra-large extruder, said to be the largest shown during the fair, the NXW200-24D for processing high- and extrahigh voltage crosslinked polyethylene (XLPE) cables. The line, equipped with either an AC or DC motor mounted with a flange to the gearbox body, has a maximum output greater than 500 kg/hr.

At processing machinery maker Reifenhäuser (Troisdorf, Germany), Dieter Thewes, extruders/die-heads profit center manager, confirms that processors in Europe and North America are buying updated parts to replace some of their existing wire processing lines rather than making totally new investments.

On the materials side, polyolefins producer Borealis (Kongens Lyngby, Denmark) is seeing double-digit growth in demand for polyethylene cable insulation and jacketing coming in all wire and cable sectors, says Michael Bjorn, marketing manager, but particularly for power distribution. He says the impact of storms and other natural disasters in Europe and North America has spurred a replacement of suspended cables with underground cabling. The visual impact of towers and overhead cables on the countryside is also prompting the switchover, he says.

At the show the company was promoting a new grade of its Supercure energy cable XLPE compound, LC8205, which is said to help cable manufacturers achieve an increase in throughput without the need for new equipment investments. The production time can be reduced by as much as 20%, says Hans Christian Ambjerg, VP wire and cable.

It is based on a combination of Borealis'' water-tree retardant copolymer technology for medium-voltage cables and the patented Supercure production method which allows a 30% increase in line speed. The material achieves a reduction in growth of water trees, thus extending cable service life.

Competitor Repsol YPF (Madrid, Spain) expects to have an experimental grade for power cable jacketing, a natural-colored, autoclave-produced, low-density PE resin with high-electron spectroscopy for chemical resistance available sometime next year. This material has a melt flow index of 0.25g/10 min. and a density of 923 kg/m3, says Gonzalo Marino González, engineering, of the polyolefins for wire business unit .

From Dow Wire & Cable (Midland, MI) comes a new semiconductive LDPE compound, HFDK0587BK for medium- and high-voltage cable applications that is said to provide cleaner, smoother shielding than conventional materials. This compound also offers improved processing characteristics such as lower pressure, less temperature generation during extrusion, and results of up to twice-as-good scorch resistance at a given high output.

Fluoropolymer materials are seeking to make greater inroads into the cable insulation market, with the recently developed fluoropolymer resin PFA6515T from Dyneon (Burgkirchen, Germany). The company says jacketing made with this product has better environmental stress-cracking resistance compared to the standard, previously used perfluoroalkoxy resins. Another new development, a fine powder polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), targets very thin-walled cable insulation to produce consistency in insulation.

Giving brownouts a jolt

Developing regions like China are seeking to catch up as demand for energy increases.

One such area is Zhengzhou City with a population of 5.6 million in Henan Province that is both an industrial center and railway intersection. Consistent power source is not a given in China (October 2003 MP; October 2003 MPI), but to sustain its rapid economic growth infrastructure investments have become essential.

The Zhengzhou Electric Bureau decided to work with Middle Eastern polymer producer Borough, a joint venture between Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and Borealis (Kongens Lyngby, Denmark), which is supplying two low-density polyethylene (LDPE) grades, Superclean LE4201 for insulation and Supersmooth LE0500 semiconductive cable materials for an 8-km, high-voltage power line from the grid to the city.

Chinese cable processor Prysmian Baosheng handled production and installation of the crosslinked PE cable. "Long-term, reliable performance was the key priority for the Zhengzhou Electric Bureau when selecting a new power network for the city," says Chen Guo Ping, logistics manager at Prysmian Baosheng.

"The cable has been in operation for more than a year and Zhengzhou is pleased with its performance."

He says cable insulation cleanliness is now recognized in China as a contributor to the reliability and longevity of power cables. RC

Robert Colvin [email protected]

Contact information

PolyOne   www.polyone.com
Repsol YPF   www.repsolypf.com
Borealis   www.borealisgroup.com
Maillefer SA   www.mailleferextrusion.com
Reifenhäuser   www.reifenhauser.com
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