Tech Talk: Cable Trays Keep Projects Tidy

Regular “Tech Talk” readers know I often discuss the finer points of properly wiring systems. Why? Because cabling is the backbone of all systems.

How often have you opened up a ceiling and found cable after cable strewn haphazardly? I have actually seen where a customer called to complain that cabling had become so heavy it caused a suspended ceiling to collapse. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to surmise that something is not right in such cases.

In installations such as video, fire/life safety, access control and security devices, security dealers and integrators are becoming more involved with large, multiple IP-based cabling configurations. That’s why now more than ever the cable tray can help you maintain successful, well-organized installations.

This month we take a look at some of the particulars of working with cable tray systems.


Realize Savings With Cable Trays

What happens at the head-end of a new video or access control system with potentially hundreds of cables running into a key server area of the building? We could have a nice conduit bank to bring in the cabling. However, many systems these days are highly scalable and cables are constantly being added, and sometimes removed. This is where the use of cable trays can save time and material – a win-win situation for contractors and integrators.

As the amount of cabling increases with larger systems, the application of J-hooks and metal cable basket trays not only organizes your cabling better, it can also save money by negating the use of traditional conduit. In fact, you can save anywhere from 10 percent to 60 percent compared to conduit systems, depending on the size and complexity of the project. Other savings may include engineering, reduced maintenance and project change costs.

Design cost savings are manifest given that it only takes a few minor changes in the width of the cable tray design to add cabling versus more detailed changes to add conduit. Considerable flexibility with many systems can be achieved as cabling can enter and leave a cable tray at almost any location.

Material cost savings can be as much as 80 percent over the cost of conduit, pull boxes and other related material. Increasing a cable tray 6 inches would increase the cost only about 10 percent, whereas a similar increase in conduit size would be very expensive.

Installation cost savings can also be considerable. These savings could be as much as 75 percent compared to conduit systems. Consider also that cost savings are realized by assigning smaller installation crews. Applicable cable trays can save as opposed to having to configure fittings and bends in conduit; not to mention negating the necessity of pulling cable through conduit.

Maintenance savings is also very noticeable. Do the projects you work on have changes? Of course they do, and no doubt have them often. Reconfiguring cabling in a cable tray is obviously going to be a big time and money saver.

Vendors Meeting Installer Needs

Manufacturers have become very creative with the use of J-hooks and cable trays. One of my favorites is Erico; I have previously reviewed products from the company’s Caddy line. Erico also has a continuous cable support system called CATtrax, which is a creative combination of J-hooks and a mesh-support basket. The resulting cable tray is very flexible in its application and use.

Another manufacturer to familiarize yourself with is Cooper B-Line and its Flextray system. This manufacturer not only has an extensive cable tray and support product line, but it has a treasure chest of educational resources. Be sure to download a free copy of Cooper B-Line’s 2005 cable tray manual, which is a real diamond-in-the-rough document. There’s also a handy “Design Center” section on the Web site where you’ll find free cable tray configuration software, along with product line quotes.

As we all know there are many rules, standards and regulations that go with cabling in conduit and in cable trays. In recent years the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) and electrical inspector communities have been clamping down on improper cable-tray installation and applications. Installing professionals must make sure that UL-Listed systems are not field modified, or if they are they be re-inspected by UL. Always be sure to have the correctly designated cable type as well.

To help stay current with this important installation facet, there are also some support organizations with reference to cable trays of which you should be aware. One such group is the Cable Tray Institute (CTI), which offers many fine resources and has an active membership involved in codes and standards.

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About the Author


Bob is currently a Security Sales & Integration "Tech Talk" columnist and a contributing technical writer. Bob installed his first DIY home intercom system at the age of 13, and formally started his technology career as a Navy communication electronics technician during the Vietnam War. He then attended the Milwaukee School of Engineering and went on to complete a Security Management program at Milwaukee Area Technical College. Since 1976, Bob has served in a variety of technical, training and project management positions with organizations such ADT, Rollins, National Guardian, Lockheed Martin, American Alarm Supply, Sonitrol and Ingersoll Rand. Early in his career, Bob started and operated his own alarm dealership. He has also served as treasurer of the Wisconsin Burglar and Fire Alarm Association and on Security Industry Association (SIA) standards committees. Bob also provides media and training consulting to the security industry.

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