CCCA cautions: Don't always believe the jacket

The Communications Cable and Connectivity Association (CCCA; www.cccassoc.org) recently rleased details of an investigation it conducted ...

The Communications Cable and Connectivity Association (CCCA; www.cccassoc.org) recently released details of an investigation it conducted into the fire-safety performance of cables from a number of offshore manufacturers. The association did not name the manufacturers in its release or in an interview with Cabling Installation & Maintenance, but did say they are not well-known brands in the U.S.

In its investigation, the CCCA commissioned an independent laboratory to analyze whether nine randomly selected samples from these manufacturers met U.S. minimum requirements for performance and safety. Eight of the nine samples failed to meet minimum code requirements for fire-safety performance. “Many of the samples failed the flame-spread and smoke tests catastrophically,” the organization said in a statement.

The group's executive director, Frank Peri, said the cables were “identified as cable type CMR or CMP [riser or plenum]. They all had independent laboratory test marks, indicating those cables are either listed or verified.”

Listed refers to CMR and CMP ratings, and verified refers to electrical performance characteristics set forth by the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA; www.tiaonline.org).

“The mark may have been totally legitimate at one time,” Peri continued, explaining that these companies may have gone through the testing procedures to gain the CMR/CMP or TIA-performance stamps originally, but then failed to continue making cable that met those performance specs. “A factor could be the statistical problem in sampling cable on an infrequent basis to ensure the cable is valid. Particularly overseas, companies are moving locations, and/or using different extruders all the time. Trying to lock in a verification program with the millions of feet that are produced is very difficult to do.”

The CCCA stresses the significance of these samples being taken from the shelves of distributors, because the association says that doing so provides representative samples of the manufacturer's product set as a whole. Typically, follow-up independent testing to confirm performance is done on cables that come from the manufacturing facility.

In a stern statement issued by the CCCA, Peri added, “These manufacturers have put public safety at risk and that is unacceptable. The integrity of the North American system of industry-led performance standards and fire-safety protection could erode if the marketing of substandard, non-compliant cables goes unchecked. In addition, contractors and distributors could face major liabilities if the installed substandard products are later found not to meet minimum fire-code requirements or do not satisfy other mechanical or electrical performance standards.”

Of the distributors who sell these products, Peri told CI&M, “Some know they're selling bad quality. Some truly don't know. Some don't want to know. The world of distribution is a mixed bag. There's a lot of interest from the reputable distributors to put the ‘bad guys' under the microscope and make an example of them.”

This investigation lays the groundwork for one of the initiatives on the CCCA's original blueprint—establishing a product-certification program that could shape up as the industry's equivalent of the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. Such a program is still in its formative stages within CCCA.

“While safety is the primary concern of the CCCA, it is also important to have transparent industry standards and testing to prevent unsuspecting customers from buying any structured cabling product that will not perform as expected in their network,” Peri stated.

CCCA plans to cooperate with major independent telecommunications industry testing agencies to establish a new product-certification program. The CCCA has said a key component will be independent laboratory testing of structured cabling products that have been procured from point-of-sale location, rather than directly from the manufacturing plant.

Peri concluded, “We are in discussions with UL and ETL, and there will be changes. It's premature to say what those changes will be. But this was a wakeup call and everybody is on alert.”—P.M.


Short runs…

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