South Africa is in a power crisis, with an increased demand for electricians as new transmission and generation systems are being rolled out. This boom in this industry has resulted in many looking to make a quick profit, often at the expense of others. Two major components are in high demand, with supply batting to keep up. First is qualified, experienced electricians that can handle the installation and maintenance of these large, complex systems. The second is the actual products and consumables related to all this new infrastructure.
In this post, we are going to focus on the latter problem. While fly-by-night “solar experts” and electricians are a problem worth discussing on their own, there is a bigger threat to established electricians. Beware of the hidden costs and problems associated with new companies suddenly being suppliers of cheap electrical products, especially cables.
A chain is as strong as its weakest link
Waiting for a supplier to restock during an industry boom can set your project back, which is what makes other vendors look so appealing. However, be careful that they can provide technical support, and that they stock enough cable and accessories. The biggest issue is if the new vendor supplies sub-standard products. It might take a year or two for faulty cables to start creating system failures, at which point your reputation will be at risk. Add in any penalty clauses or warranty that you offered, and suddenly the money saved on these cheaper products will evaporate.
This problem will be even worse if your contract involved a power utility, as the public might be made aware of the contractors involved, casting a shadow on your reputation as the local – or even national! – media get involved.
Check before buying
Luckily, cabling has several physical attributes you can check to decide whether it is quality cable or an inferior product. Make sure to get a length of cable from the supplier first, and don’t settle for a samples that the sales team has on hand. Ask for a cut-off from the reel or spool being sold.
Here are a few things to look for when buying cable:
Check the packaging – Cabling should have packaging that clearly states the origin of the product, the manufacturer’s name and the trademark. The packaging should also mention the brand, the type of product, information on the conductor structure and which production standards they meet.
Check the insulation – Higher quality wires and cables have a smooth, shiny outer layer to avoid getting caught on other wires or inside a conduit. The insulation layer should be highly flexible and should stretch easily, and it should be uniform in thickness.
Check the conductor – The number of wires inside the conductor should match what is recorded on the wire sheath. A cross-section of the conductor will make it easier to check. The wires should be shiny and bright. If it is copper, it will be highly flexible. For single-conductor types, you should be able to bend the conductor several times without it breaking. For larger conductors, take one of the strands of wire and twist it with your fingers. If the wire bursts, breaks, or stabs you, then the quality is sub-par.
Check that cables are easy to strip, and that the text on them is even and has no spelling errors. If you spot any bad spelling or text that rubs right off the cabling, that is a good indication that the quality of the product is suspect.
Poor-quality cables and conductors can result in fires, voltage drops, excessive temperatures, short circuits, or abrupt disconnections. These cables are often harder to work with, and due to the lack of labelling, it makes it harder for consumers or the next electrician to understand which wires were used for what purpose.
Make sure that your supplier is reputable and only carries accredited products. Rather pay for quality products now and avoid future hassles and expenses associated with a major problem such as a fire or dangerous short circuit.
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