Industry Opinion - Helpful Tools for Pulling, Finding, Terminating and Testing Cables
Wouldn't life be simple if there were no cables to install and everything were wireless?
In reality however, wireless has its limitations, and the general consensus among professional custom installers is still that, whenever possible, a wired home control and entertainment infrastructure is preferable. This may not just involve installing cables in a new build, but retrofitting cables to an already-inhabited home, or taking advantage of an existing cabling system.
We therefore asked a number of respected custom installers about which tools they find helpful for pulling, finding, terminating and/or testing cables, and perhaps what they would like to see that isn't already readily available (manufacturers take note!) Here are their replies:
Martyn Goody, Project Manager, Cornflake
Pulling cables isn't always as easy as you might think. Our engineers use everything from cable horses and rods to non-abrasive Fairy Liquid dishwashing detergent and good old-fashioned elbow grease.
Each project presents a different challenge - dependent on the construction and wiring conditions - which dictates the route, length and type of cable we specify. Multi-core cable is definitely becoming the norm for a one-run solution for certain systems and it's very cost effective, despite being a little chunky, although there will always be multiple runs to each location.
With regard to termination, we find that modular patch panels offer a very good solution. Anything that makes a termination a consistent, simple and effective process is good with us. When it comes to testing, all of our engineers have tone testers, continuity testers, sat hunters, TV hunters and HDMI signal generators at their disposal, but their favourite tool is the Fluke Cable IQ Tester. This provides accurate readings across many cables and gives the exact length of cable, plus it can tell exactly where a break in a cable lies. It's an extremely handy piece of kit.
The reporting side of the IQ tester is outstanding too; the ability to look at all of the information of a fully-structured property of cables is really useful. When we surveyed our engineers about what dream kit would make their jobs easier, a 'nice riser' was the general consensus. One enterprising engineer is developing a prototype cable puller tool in his spare time, but I can't tell you any more here - you'll have to wait to see him on TV's Dragon's Den programme for entrepreneurs. In the meantime, Team Cornflake will continue eating its two Weetabix a day, just in case a strong arm is required!
Sue Granik, Director of Business Development, Harland & Voss
One of the most useful tools for us is a tone generator. It can be indispensable in finding cables that are 'lost' between the first and second fix, or in investigating an existing setup when the original installer is no longer available (an increasingly frequent situation during the last couple of years). However, skills in using a tone generator sharpen with experience, and this is not a technique for amateurs.
From the customer point of view, people are greatly relieved that they will not have to call decorators back in to repair damage. Although some of our own electricians were sceptical at first, they now really appreciate the ability to solve problems that could not have been resolved without a tone generator.
Kris Hogg, Managing Director, Konnectiv Technology
We find our kit of pulling rods absolutely essential, to the point where we all carry a mini kit in the car. The other device we've found to be a life saver is one of those inspection cameras on a lit probe - it has really helped to find lost cables or the reason for a snag when pulling. When it comes to finding cables, the trusty old bell sounder is used almost every day. As for testing, we still rely on a multi-meter to check continuity on each core or just check for shorts on a freshly-made interconnect, unless it's an HDMI cable. What I'd love to see is an economical version of the outrageously-priced Fluke testers - perhaps even a more specialist tester that will give approximate distances to a cable fault as well as audible continuity testing. And for good measure, why not have it feature a bell sounder too - all for GB£100.
Wilhelm Pelser, Technical Marketing Manager, e-Home AUTOMATION
In any installer's toolbox you will firstly find a multi-meter. This tool is extremely useful for fault finding: testing voltage on cables (DC and AC), continuity (damaged cables, open and closed contacts etc) and also resistance. This tool is a must-have in any toolbox. You will also find a fancy tool called 'a piece of thin, strong pull wire'! About two metres long, this will get a cable through those hard-to-reach or just plain impossible-to-reach places.
Throw into the box a couple of insulation tape rolls: for taping cables to draw wires and fish tapes and also to insulate those electrical connections. I prefer heatshrink on electrical joints, but insulation tape will do as well.
We terminate a lot of data connections, so an RJ45 and RJ11 crimping tool is the right tool in the box. It comes with a small cable stripper and will cut the eight-core to the right size. We also use a BNC crimping tool for analogue cameras. Did I mention a fish tape to pull cables through those conduits? Yes, you will need that. We use a cable stripper as well, and a small and medium blade.
Jon Rebbeck, Senior Engineer, SMC
The importance of fast, robust and uniform cable terminations goes without saying. Increased productivity, fewer faults and a neat installation are all benefits of a system integrator using good quality tools and terminations.
Advancing from good engineering techniques, it is increasingly important to undertake a means of testing and certifying cables. There can be occasions within a project that are completely out of our control, where unknown to the us, cables can become damaged. By using sophisticated certification tools, for example the Fluke Data Cable Analyser, OWL Fibre Tester or a coax clarifier, we are able to find where the fault is, fix the problem and ultimately deliver the project to specification without having an impact on timescales.
Furthermore, providing a certificate of our cabling and terminations by using such tools not only gives reassurance and ensures reliability, it also adds value to the project. This is then passed on to the client as an additional asset to their property, which proves important in an age where we are increasingly reliant on the cabling infrastructure within a property.
Dave Chester, Managing Director, CustomControls
By far the most useful tool in our kit bag is our Fluke network tester. Nearly all of our systems run over CAT5e/6/7 cabling nowadays - whether video distribution through Crestron Digital Media or audio distribution through Crestron's Sonnex product line. Although this makes it easy to install and certify by competent installers, there is no substitute for being able to test the cable to its maximum throughput and, if it fails, being able to point to a fairly precise point where the issue is. We save countless hours by being able to identify or eliminate problems with the infrastructure from our fault finding.
The other thing which makes life easier is that we usually supply different colours of CAT cable for different applications such as audio, video, networking, intercom etc, thus ensuring an easy termination at the rack end.
We also use a good labelling system. We employ a couple of labels in our installs: Sharpmark makes a wrap around self-laminating solution which enables us to print out sheets of 105 labels at a time - perfect for the installation team - and when terminating in the rack, we use the tried and tested Dymo Rhino printer.
Adrian Hicks, Channel 28 Ltd
During first and second fix, I still think my most valuable tool on site is my tone generator, as used by every BT Engineer you will meet. You clip the generator onto two cores of a cable that you want to find and get an audible tone when you're near the cable at the other end.
Once the cables are found and terminated, I still swear by my HDMI signal generator and monitor. I have seen engineers waste days trying to understand HDMI issues, but with no good test equipment, they are fumbling in the dark. The Holy Grail of HDMI testing is the Quantum Data 780, but at GB£2700, very few companies can justify the cost. The manufacturer who puts 90% of such functionality in a GB£1000 unit would have a winning product for the residential market.
Yasmin Hashmi is the Editor of HiddenWires magazine.