Proper Connections Need No Corrections

When was the first time you received instruction on how to make a good cable termination? I can actually remember back to my electrical shop class in junior high school. The lesson then was wrapping the stripped end of a copper wire around a screw-down terminal to make sure the wire wraps in the direction of the turning screw. This way the screw will tighten the wire as you turn. Yes, a simple rule, and I know the majority of you reading this will say this is basic stuff.

However, through the years, I have noticed many technicians who ignore this basic rule of termination. I have even seen this applied the wrong way with stranded wire, thereby sending little strands shorting in all directions across the terminal strip. Why? Maybe the answer is as simple as no one ever showed them the correct way. Let’s all think about this as we talk about some modern-day tips and techniques for proper cable termination.

Never Underestimate the Obvious
Somewhere I remember hearing industry statistics that more than 70 percent of all cabling problems can be traced back to a cable termination issue.

Simple practices such as using crimp-on lugs to control loose strands on stranded wire and using pulling rather than cutting wire strippers for small gauge solid copper wire to avoid nicking can go a long way in preventing service callbacks. A simple small break from a nick in a copper wire might make an adequate connection now but will open when the temperature changes.

Some of you may have seen the column by my colleague Al Colombo (see the September 2004 “Fire Side Chat,” page 38, titled, “Looking at Lockout Ethics, Poor Terminations and Wireless Detection”) in which the improper placement of a bare copper lead revealed the insulation was being clamped instead of the wire. Since everything visually appeared correct, it took considerable time to locate this simple open circuit error.

Try to get in the habit of remembering that old famous saying, “You get what you inspect, not what you expect,” every time you are making even a simple cable termination.

Handling Network Category Cables
One area of cable termination that is getting a lot of attention is connecting category cable, such as Cat 5, 5e (enhanced Cat 5) and 6, for network connectivity. Systems that use this connectivity are going to become even more challenging to terminate as data rates go from 10Mbps to 100Mbps to 1Gbps, and soon 10Gbps. Because of these higher bit rates, technicians need to be very careful in selecting the correct connectors and cable such as Cat 5e and Cat 6 for Gbps transmission.

The most common connector for twisted network category cable is the RJ-45 connector. To make a proper termination with this connector, at least initially, can take some technical finger dexterity. Unless you do these connections on a daily basis, making them consistently short and tight can be a real challenge. This is where I call on an innovative version of the standard RJ-45, which is called the EZ-RJ45.

The simple design of this device is everything that epitomizes a good invention. As most have or will learn in making up an RJ-45 connection, you have to make these eight twisted wires very short (typically 1/2 inch), arrange them in a specific order and pack them neatly into a very small connector chamber. The idea of the EZ-RJ45 is to open up the end of the wire chamber and slide the wires through (see photo above).

The open chamber design of this connector allows the technician to strip several inches of category cable jacket. Due to the longer stripping length, it is much easier to fan out and arrange the order of the wires, slide them through the crimping chamber and, more importantly, push them tight up against the jacket end. Then, using a specially designed crimper/cutter tool, crimp the wires and neatly trim the wires in one smooth action. This technique allows for a tightly made connector every time.

(NOTE: It is recommended you use the matching EZ crimping tool. Some techs have commented that while a standard RJ-45 crimping tool will work, it is hard to get a really close cut on the wires coming out of the connector end. If the cut is not very flush, the connector may not fit smoothly in some RJ-45 equipment jacks.)

New Cabling Poses New Challenges
Recently, I asked Rob Sullivan, technical manager for SullStar Technologies and the inventor of the EZ-RJ45 connectors and crimping tool, what he thought were some of the more problematic areas facing technicians making network connections. He commented, “Different products that do not fit together; different terminations for different jacks and wires; and no standards between manufacturers.”

Sullivan further stated, “In the store/warehouse, the wire and hardware will meet a testing standard, but when installed in the real world, the product does not pass. Even when the best installation standards are followed, the hardware may not support the test level advertised.”

I also asked him what problems he saw in the future. “Cat 6 is a challenge now, and Cat 7 will be very finicky. The cost will go up as the cable and hardware become more complex. The technicians are going to have to bid in more installation time, more stringent installation practices, and rework and retesting time. There will need to be Cat-6 and Cat-7 tuning time bid into the job to get it to pass a standard,” Sullivan added.

Contractors have often told me that everyone out there seems to configure networked systems with their own variety of wire configurations for RJ-45 network connections. Not having consistent connector configurations can lead to connectivity problems when new devices are added to an existing network. Network, IT and facility managers should seek and stick to a connectivity wiring standard, such as the 568A and 568B (see diagram on page 30) wiring pin-outs for RJ-45 connectors and twisted category cable. There is often some confusion since there are TIA/EIA 568-A and TIA/EIA 568-B standards, each with 568A and 568B pin-out configurations within them.

Typically, the 568A pin-out configuration is used for what is referred to as “straight thru” wiring with the 568B pin-out configuration used for “crossover” (reversal of wire pairs 2 and 3) wiring when connecting two internal network devices, such as network hubs. Be cautious as some network devices have internal crossover wiring.

For the complete version of this story, see the September issue of Security Sales & Integration magazine.

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