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The Basics

The essential information on facts, stories, and principles in the wire and cable industry.

8/6/21  Electric vampires do exist, and chances are that you have multiple ones at your residence These vampires are power cables that suck up electricity even when your appliances are turned off but are still plugged in. This “vampire electricity” comes from power cords to phone chargers, laptops, printers, modems, stereos, TVs, DVRs, cable boxes, microwaves, etc., that are always plugged in to a wall socket and continually consume energy, even if the appliance is not turned on. These appliances remain in standby mode, continually drawing energy waiting for you to click “On” so they can start up immediately. They also consume energy to perform other tasks in the background, such as making updates, connecting to remote networks and gathering data. A whole house of appliances constantly draining vampire energy can contribute as much as 20% to your electric bill. That’s $165 per year for the average household, and $19 billion across the U.S., according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

One way to put a stake in vampire energy usage is using a power strip (with a surge protector), which turns off all power flowing to devices. Plug multiple devices into a power strip when appliances are in use, then turn them all off at once when not in use. Other ways to ward off energy vampires is to buy Energy Star labeled appliances, activate the energy-saving mode of appliances to put it to sleep when not in use, unplug phones and tablets once they are fully charged rather than leaving them charging overnight, and unplug seldom used appliances like the washing machine or the household furnace during summer or air conditioner during winter when not in use.

Last modified on August 6, 2021

8/6/21  Everyone wants a bargain but buying by lowest price continues to be a bad idea. Merchants on Instagram are selling counterfeit Apple phone chargers, lightning cable, and USB power adapters at a steep discount. Only these products tend to explode, causing overheating, fires, and injury such as burns and shocks. A USA Today study checked the safety limits of electricity flowing through 400 fake iPhone adapters and found a 99% failure rate. 

About 1 million online listings selling counterfeit Apple products, usually from China and Hong Kong, have become a multi-million-dollar operation targeting mostly consumers in Europe and the U.S., according to a report by Ghost Data Team published on Bloomberg.com. Ghost Data studied 163 sellers of counterfeit products on Instagram, and these companies uploaded 50,000 sales posts in the last year. U.S. investigators have determined that overseas-manufactured counterfeits take a circuitous route through several companies before reaching retail markets in the U.S.

 Counterfeits have been a persistent problem. Instagram parent company Facebook says it continues to devote resources to taking down sites that sells such products, yet you can still find such offers advertised on Instagram and Facebook. One seller grossed $140,000 in a single day, according to Ghost Data. Amazon is also plagued by counterfeits.

 If you see an ad for an AirPod Pro for $25 that typically sells for $249, you can be assured that you are not looking at a bargain. You are looking at junk. Also, if a photo of a product shows no logo, and there is no description for short circuit protection or accompanying product information, scroll on.

Last modified on August 6, 2021

7/7/21  By the time hurricanes strike, they have official names and landing date so people have a name to a tag all the damage, which will be well chronicled by video. Last year, however, there was a memorable natural disaster, only this one did not have a name, an official starting time or much of anything in the way of widespread media attention. Then again, this avalanche took place at depths as great as 2.8 miles, and the only sign that it had even happened was that two subsea cable systems were KOed.

Per a BBC report, the avalanche, officially called a turbidity current, was initially triggered by a large flood on the Congo River in December 2019. The fast-moving water shifted a vast amount of sand and mud to the Congo Submarine Canyon off the West African coast, but that alone did not cause the avalanche. Early spring tides in mid-January 2020, water pressure in the sediment and low tide triggered the turbidity current. The slide traveled for a full two days, starting out at 11.6 miles/hour then sped up to nearly 18 miles/hour, covering 683 miles across the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, reaching depths there as much as 2.8 miles.

A U.K. team led by Professor Peter Talling discovered the event through sensors in the area that measure current and sediment velocities. The slide damaged two submarine telecommunications cables, the South Atlantic 3/West Africa (SAT-3/WASC) cable and the West Africa Cable System (WACS), knocking out Internet and other data traffic. A French cable-laying vessel, the Léon Thévenin, repaired the cable breaks within two weeks, but the movement of sediment caused more breaks in early 2021.

Talling and his colleagues later wrote a paper (Novel sensor array helps to understand submarine cable faults off West Africa) printed at eartharxiv.org. In it, the professor explained that not all turbidity currents work the same. Some deposit large amounts of sand and mud onto cables, while other slides burrow deep into the seafloor. The Talling team provided some of the first measurements made of cable-breaking sediment flows. He explained how such flows can affect multiple cables simultaneously over large areas, and how deep erosion can damage subsea cables.

Dr. Mike Clare, marine geoscientist at the U.K.’s National Oceanography Centre and advisor to the International Cable Protection Committee, said that the goal was to best understand how to position and reroute cable repair ships into areas where undersea cable is more vulnerable to damage.
More than 99% of all data traffic between continents goes through the global submarine cable network. Participating in the Congo Canyon research was IFREMER (Institut Français de Recherche pour l'Exploitation de la MER) in France and GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Germany. The project is co-led from Durham and Angola Cables.

Last modified on July 8, 2021

7/7/21  Sad to report, but it was beavers – determined, hard-working creatures – that were the cause of a temporary Internet outage for 900 residents in Tumbler Ridge in northeastern British Columbia.

When a Telus repair crew traced the problem, they found red marking tape on top of a beaver’s den in a local creek. The beavers had dug down more than three feet to the cable, used the tape for their building material, and chewed through 4.5 in. of conduit and fiber cable in multiple locations. Crews had to bring in extra equipment to dig out and expose the rest of the cable to see how far the damage extended. The partially frozen ground hindered their 36-hour repair work. Observed a Telus spokeswoman, it was a “uniquely Canadian disruption!”

As WJI readers know, rats and mice can cause tremendous damage chewing through electrical wires that cause millions of dollars of structural damage, as well as electrical and power outages. According to Working RE Magazine, rats and mice cause 20% of undetermined fires in the United States each year. Rats and squirrels have been caught on video pulling out and chewing on electrical wires in attics. Rodents chew on wires to file down their teeth and to make nesting material. Because rats, mice, chipmunks and squirrels are the most likely suspects for chewing wires, please don’t blame bats, opossum, skunks and armadillos, as they do not engage in such activity. Then again, aside from the armadillos, they are not as lovable as beavers.

Last modified on July 8, 2021

June 3, 2021 – Are you being worked to death? If you feel at times as if you are being worked to death … you might be right! To be clear, this news in no way implies that the wire and cable industry is not good for one’s health … but it does raise a concern to any working person.

Overworking is so prevalent that the Japanese even have a word for it: karoshi: death from overwork. Working more than 55 hours per week can lead to a slew of adverse health reactions, from ischemic heart disease, stroke and stress to impaired memory/sleep, suicide and death. Karoshi is common in Asia, but it is spreading around the world and in diverse industries.

Per a recent World Health Organization (WHO) study, 745,000 people who worked more than 55 hours a week died of heart disease and stroke in 2016. The number for heart attacks was up a shocking 42% from 2000. And long work weeks are quite common. In 2016, WHO and the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimated that 488 million people worldwide worked more than 55 hours a week. Of note, the latest ILO statistics show that the country that leads the world in long work weeks is Yemen, where 97% of employees work 49 hours or more. (The U.S. was listed at 14%.)

Overwork can include being available for work emails and calls 24/7. The Harvard Business Review reports that such overloading can make certain job duties more difficult, from sales and decision-making and judgment calls to getting along with coworkers. Ironically, those who give it their all may not reap any praise, let alone rewards: a Boston University study found that managers often could not tell the difference between employees who actually worked 80 hours a week and those who pretended to.

You might think that working from home during Covid-19 would have resulted in fewer work hours and less stress. Just the opposite. “Teleworking has become the norm in many industries, often blurring the boundaries between home and work,” noted WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in Forbes. Workers with family obligations fit their work in during bizarre hours like very early in the morning, during the night, and over the weekends, disrupting the circadian rhythm of their sleep–wake cycle.

WHO Director Dr. Maria Neira suggests that governments and employers should forbid mandatory overtime, arrange flexible work schedules, create work-sharing among employees, and set the maximum work hours to 55 per week for a single person. She recommends that employees ignore their smartphone for several hours per day, pursue a hobby or enjoyable activity, eat right, exercise and get enough sleep.

Of course, the ability to schedule in such recommendations would be the real challenge.

Last modified on June 3, 2021

June 3, 2021 – Penicillin, the microwave oven, Viagra, and chocolate chip cookies were all successful accidental accomplishments. Joining these is one-dimensional (1D) atomic silver wire. Eluding scientists for two decades, this milestone in nanotechnology was achieved by an international team of researchers who were trying to do something else.

 Researchers from Fudan University in Shanghai, Japan’s National Institute for Materials Science, and Queensland University of Technology’s (QUT) Centre for Materials Science were examining the properties of silver by putting silver atoms on the outside of manganese dioxide nanorods that had channels inside them. The scientists conducted the experiment in regular air, rather than inside an inert vacuum, expecting the silver atoms to react with oxygen and form silver oxide.

 Instead, the silver atoms diffused quickly inside the nanorod channels in a self-assembly technique that formed 1D silver rods up to 1 μm in length that was stable outside a vacuum. The team made 200 silver wires as wide as one atom. In an article at ZDnet, QUT professor Dmitri Golberg said that unexpectedly, the silver demonstrated a temperature-controlled insulator-to-metal transition. This means that depending on the temperature, the wire could be used as a switch in thermal electrical devices. If the wires are processed at suitable 3D sizes, which is still a challenging endeavor, they could be connected to nanocircuitry. Ultimately, the atomic wire discovery could contribute to the manufacture of electronic devices on a molecular scale. The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.

Last modified on June 3, 2021

5/10/2021: Summer is approaching, and for many people that means that it is will be peak time to fire up the grill. There have been many stories about the danger of cleaning your grill with a wire brush, as sharp particles and splinters can break off of stainless steel- and brass-wire brushes. If that happens, those particles can become imbedded in future cooking, and result in significant risks if ingested.

However, wire brushes are efficient at cleaning a grill, and can be safely used, but they do require some common sense. There are two ways to approach this, and either can be right if you do it properly.

When the cooking is complete, wait for the grill surface to cool down to where it is still warm but not cool. Then, using a good quality wire brush, sweep off any food particles. Doing this when the grill is still warm makes it easier to scrap away food particles that, once cooled, are baked on, potentially containing wire slivers. Conversely, if you don’t want to bother cleaning at that point, you can wait till next use. At that point, though, you should pre-heat the grill at a high temperature for an extended period (at least 20 minutes). Then, place a wire brush into a bucket of warm, soapy water, and scrub off the surface of the grates.

Whether you reach for a wire brush before or after cooking, give it a close look. See if it has any broken bristles, or if it is worn or warped. If anything looks iffy, discard it.

As an alternative to wire brushes, Consumer Reports recommends cleaning with a coil brush, pumice stone or abrasive pads. Good Housekeeping suggests crumpled aluminum foil and a strong degreaser. And, for those who like a natural approach, consider the following: pre-heat the grill as described above, then slice an onion in half. Pierce the onion with a fork, and run the cut-side down along the grill grates. The onion's juices will release and produce steam to remove the bits and charred-on debris.

Last modified on May 10, 2021

5/7/2021:  Whatever your political affiliation, President Biden’s American Jobs Plan infrastructure investment plan should be welcome news for many wire and cable companies.

The American Jobs Plan infrastructure investment plan promises big expansion in broadband internet and clean energy. The plan calls for $100 billion to bring more affordable and reliable high-speed broadband internet, or wireless broadband via 5G, into rural areas especially, but also urban areas, for 100% coverage across the country. The plan will also increase funding for Community Connect broadband grants, support towns that want to build municipally-owned broadband networks, and make available federally controlled telecom resources like towers, poles, and rights-of-way.

Lack of funding and infrastructure have hampered expansion in the past. The FCC estimates that as many as 42 million Americans don’t have access to high-speed broadband. The shut-in during the pandemic highlighted the importance of people having access to high-speed internet. By removing governmental barriers, Biden’s plan expects to promote competition among internet providers by encouraging companies to increase speed and decrease prices.
Of note, the broadband expansion is opposed by the cable internet industry, which calls Biden’s plan unnecessary. Internet & Television Association CEO Michael Powell said in a statement that America’s current modern digital network has been successful, and that it is wrong to suggest that “the government is better suited than private-sector technologists to build and operate the internet.”

For clean energy, the infrastructure plan extends Investment Tax Credits and Production Tax Credits to incentivize the installation of at least 20 GW of high-voltage-capacity transmission power lines, move the federal vehicle fleet to electric vehicles, and invest $15 billion in climate research and development projects.

How much is actually accomplished is another story, but the bottom line is that a lot of money could be funneled into applications that could accomplish good as well as create more wire and cable business.

Last modified on May 7, 2021

5/7/2021: Steel and copper wire makers are facing shortages of raw materials that have already resulted in higher prices and manufacturing slowdowns. Covid-19 shutdowns, growing demand, lack of investment, lack of discovery of new deposits, truck driver shortage, strikes, delays at U.S. ports of entry, and supply chain disruptions have all contributed to the problem. Shortages of basic materials such as steel, steel plate, copper and aluminum have affected many industries from computer chip makers to solar panels.

The shortages are affecting manufacturers worldwide who are struggling to find domestic and imported sources. In Europe, finished steel distributors are having difficulty finding steel supplies. In India, shortages have caused some steel metal wire makers to operate below capacity and may close down if lack of supplies persists. High-grade wire rods, the main raw material for wire production, is especially sought after.

Raw copper supplies have been in decline due to lower investment and mine development, notes Rob Haworth, a senior investment strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management. As a consequence, the higher bidder determines who gets the available materials. Such competition among manufacturers means higher prices are passed on to the consumer. Copper prices rose 100% from March 2020 to April 2021. To counter the shortage, large copper companies are increasing investment. For example, the Chilean government is spending $2.5 billion to expand existing mines; the Australian mining company BHP is allocating $900 million to find new copper and oil deposits.

On the bright side, higher material costs usually convert to higher profit margins. Shortages and price increases are expected to continue into 2022.

Last modified on May 7, 2021

4/9/2021: The U.S. Navy uses thoriated tungsten wire (W-Th) in their radar equipment. A small piece of W-Th is used inside high power microwave vacuum tubes to amplify radar signals. While W-Th has a good source of electrons and can operate at high temperatures, over time it can decay. One drawback is that making the wire produces hazardous byproducts, which is why the Navy is asking the industry for help. It wants a new material to replace W-Th that offers the same performance parameters yet is made in a more environmentally friendly process.

The Navy has several suggestions. One is improving W-Th wire performance by using additives. The majority of W-Th is tungsten, with 1% thorium oxide by weight. Another solution could be applying alternative wire surface coatings that would need to have a low work function, and be resistant to deformation at 1600°C. The Navy has already tested alloys of cerium and lanthanum with tungsten wire, but it is looking for a new process or alternative materials that can be used in the vacuum tubes, and operate within the same voltage and temperature as the W-Th wire.

Since the diameter of the wire used in the vacuum tubes is small, about 35 AWG, and each tube would only use about an inch of wire. The total length needed would depend on the number of tubes needed. An estimated 15 km of wire would be needed per year, notes Brady Walter, the science and technology contact at the Indiana Innovation Institute (IN3), which is a partner in the project.

The Navy is open to industry proposals. Anyone with expertise on the subject can submit a response, and a security clearance is not needed. The deadline for submissions has been extended to May 15, 2021. IN3 is working with the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division, on this project. The Navy ultimately decides if a proposal will be accepted, and if so, it will provide the funds. Enquiries about the project and submissions can be sent to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Last modified on April 9, 2021

4/9/2021: Wire buyers, manufacturers and investors who are planning for the upcoming year should see price spikes in wire and cable, specifically copper and silver, which is a healthy sign for the U.S. economy.

After the Covid-19 manufacturing slump, companies continue to ramp up. The pent-up demand for wire and cable reflects what should be a manufacturing boom. Other reasons include coronavirus vaccine roll-outs helping more people return to business as usual, China’s manufacturing recovery after the pandemic and President Biden’s American Jobs Plan infrastructure proposal that includes green initiatives such as electric cars and clean energy.

Once upon a time, the price of copper was talked about in pounds, and there were long periods when it was generally stable at about a dollar. Today, though, most of the world follows the price of copper by the metric ton, and it has been far from stable in recent years. Per MetalMiner, the price rose from $4,371 per metric ton in March 2020 to $8,631 in February 2021. Spurring the increase is China ramping up manufacturing and the need for copper in renewable energy products, electric vehicles, telecommunications, construction and transportation.

Yet where copper prices go from here is not so simple. It depends on who you listen to. One school of thought is that prices may not remain bullish. The initial rise in prices may fall back by year-end, once the supply crunch for copper rebounds with added production and orders being filled. But the view from the Trafigura Group, the world’s largest copper trader, is that copper prices could top $10,000 a metric ton this year, and as much as $15,000 a metric ton in the coming decade as demand from global decarbonization produces a deep market deficit.

Silver is another metal on the rise. It is used to plate copper in PTFE-insulated wiring conductors, but much demand stems from vast industrial demand for solar panels, the global roll out of 5G technology and jewelry production. The Silver Institute, a sterling organization, predicts that the price of silver, which rose from $16.19 per ounce in 2019 to $20.52 per ounce in 2020, could rise by 46% to a seven-year high of $30. Another cause in the spike in prices was a Reddit social media post encouraging a short squeeze on silver. The increase in silver prices will likely impact the rest of the wire and cable supply chain.

Last modified on April 9, 2021

4/9/2021: Who hasn’t seen a slew of birds sitting in a line along overhead wires, all facing the same way, and wondered: why are they doing that? Is it really that comfortable there?

It turns out that there is no one reason. Birds perch on wires because they are resting, preening, scouting out the territory for prey (if they’re a predator) or for predators (if they’re likely to be the meal). They also like to sleep in high places for protection. Birds also gather on wires to look for a date and check out the competition. Conservation biologist Mark LaBarr of Audubon Vermont says that in late summer and early fall, birds congregate on wires as they prepare for their long migration south. It’s also easier for some birds than others to do this. Songbirds, also known as passerines, have four toes, three of which are directed forward and one backward, that allows them to firmly clasp onto branches … and telephone lines. 

Last modified on May 6, 2021