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Power Cable Red Flags – Avoid for Safety and Better Data Center Performance

Two SJT power cable for data centers

Data centers are the backbone of modern digital infrastructure. Yet, minor oversights like substandard power cables can jeopardize safety, reliability, and energy efficiency. Understanding these power cable red flags is crucial for ensuring optimal data center performance.

This article aims to help not only data center engineers and technicians. It’s also for IT managers who handle general networking and cabling for organizations with smaller IT infrastructures. Edge data centers and modular data centers in universities, retail, and hospitals will also find this article vital, especially for safety.

Power Cable Red Flag - SJT Cable in Hazard Background

Power Cable Red Flags 

Non-Compliant with Industry Standards – No Certification

It is important to ensure that your data center power cables meet the standards set by recognized industry bodies such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), Underwriters Laboratories (UL), National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), or the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). 

Non-compliant cables may not have undergone rigorous testing for safety, performance, and reliability. Be aware of cables that lack proper certification marks or appear to have forged certifications.

Certification marks from reputable organizations like UL, CE (Conformité Européenne), and CSA (Canadian Standards Association) ensure the product meets specific safety and performance standards. Cables without these marks, or with counterfeit marks, are a significant risk that is not worth taking.

If your cable supplier isn’t able to show any form of certification, you may want to review your options. 

Inadequate Shielding and Insulation

Power cables with poor or missing shielding and insulation are another red flag. Proper shielding and insulation protect against electromagnetic interference (EMI), physical damage, and electrical leaks. 

EMI can cause data corruption and loss, while inadequate insulation raises the risk of shorts and shocks.

The IEC publishes guidelines on cable insulation requirements, emphasizing the importance of materials that can withstand the operational environment of data centers.

Here are some construction signs to look out for: 

  • Inconsistent Cable Thickness: Variations in the cable’s diameter along its length can indicate low-quality manufacturing and inconsistent insulation.
  • Easily Exposed Conductors: The cable likely has poor insulation quality if the insulation feels flimsy or the inner wires are easily exposed with minimal pressure.
  • Suspiciously Low Price: Extremely low compared to similar cables from reputable brands might indicate substandard materials and poor quality. Low pricing is excellent for business, but watch out for overtly low ones that seem unreasonable.

Incorrect Cable Gauge

Using an incorrect cable gauge (thickness) for your data center’s power load is a major red flag. The American Wire Gauge (AWG) system dictates a wire’s current-carrying capacity, and undersized cables will dangerously overheat, posing a fire risk and potentially damaging equipment. Data centers operate with high power demands, making this even more critical.

Incorrectly rated cables can also fail under stress. Always consult the National Electrical Code (NEC) and equipment specifications to select the correct cable gauge and type. Be careful of suppliers that will sell you lower-gauged power cables than what they advertise. Not only will an incorrect cable gauge mess up your data center power cable management, but it will also lead to safety issues and equipment damage.

Absence of Fire Resistance

Although there are plenty of data center power cable types available, all of them should at least have some fire-resistant rating. Power cables with zero fire resistance are a major red flag, especially for data centers. Fire-resistant cables minimize the risk of spreading fire and releasing hazardous fumes in case of a fire. The National Electrical Code (NEC) specifies the types of cables suitable for different environments, and it emphasizes the need for fire-resistant materials in settings prone to fire risks.

Plenum-rated cables are highly recommended for areas running through plenum spaces, such as above ceilings or below floors. These cables come with special jackets that reduce the potential of fire spreading and minimize the emission of toxic smoke in the event of a fire. This feature is crucial in data center environments where the safety of personnel and infrastructure is at risk from the rapid spread of fire and toxic emissions.

Dangerous Power Cable Manufacturing Practices in the Industry

Here’s a list of common issues in the cable manufacturing industry that you should avoid. If your cables have any of the characteristics mentioned below, they’re likely sub-standard and should be returned. 

Poor-quality copper used in power cable - avoid this type of power cable

Problems with the Copper Conductor

  • Poor-Quality Copper: Impurities in the copper reduce conductivity, leading to decreased current capacity, higher energy losses (as heat), and potential for overheating.
  • Low Copper Strand Count: Fewer strands within the conductor reduce the cable’s flexibility and increase the resistance, leading to heating and potential breakage.
  • Smaller AWG: Using a smaller gauge wire than required means the cable cannot safely handle the intended electrical load, creating a fire hazard.
  • Alternative Metals Dipped in Copper: This deceptive practice lowers the overall conductivity of the cable, leading to the same issues as using lower-quality copper.
  • Alternative Metal Alloys: Alloys of less conductive metals will create higher resistance in the cable, causing energy loss, heating, and reduced performance.

Issues with Terminals and Connections

  • Hollow Pins: These lack strength and reduce the contact area, leading to higher-resistance connections that can overheat and fail.
  • Sub-Standard Material: Cheaply made terminals can corrode, deform, or break, disrupting power flow and potentially causing dangerous short circuits.
  • Improper Crimping: Loose or incorrect crimping creates a high-resistance connection, leading to heat buildup and potential failure of the connection.
  • Misaligned Pins in Housing: Misaligned pins can cause short circuits, arcing, and damage to equipment.
  • Sub-Standard Inserts and Shells: Cheap materials lack strength and durability, increasing the risk of physical damage or loose connections to the cable.

Cable Construction Problems

  • Low-Quality Insulation Material: Inferior insulation and jacket material are more prone to damage, exposing conductors, creating electrical hazards, and shortening cable lifespan.
  • No Cable Filler: Without fillers, cables become unbalanced and prone to kinking. This can damage internal wires and make them susceptible to coming loose from the connector.
  • Using Recycled Plastics: Recycled plastics for insulation can be brittle and break down faster, increasing the risk of electrical shorts and safety problems.
  • Faulty Molding Time/Maintenance: Poor manufacturing practices affect the integrity of connectors and the overall build quality, leading to failures and potential hazards.

 Other Power Cable Red Flags

  • Fake Certifications: Power cables lacking legitimate certifications (UL, ETL, etc.) may not meet safety standards and pose a significant risk.
  • Falsified Testing: This indicates a disregard for safety and proper quality control.
  • Code Violations: Cables that don’t meet electrical codes are unsafe and may be illegal to use.
  • Low-quality Packaging: Substandard packaging can suggest overall poor quality and a higher risk of damage during shipping.

If you want to boost your data center’s performance by optimizing its power cables, we recommend reading our article on Proper Power Cable Usage Prevents Poor Performance.

Quality Power Cables for Zero Headaches and Genuine Long-term Savings

Investing in low-quality power cables is a gamble that might save a few dollars upfront but could lead to costly consequences down the line. From fire hazards and equipment damage to downtime and compliance issues, the risks are too high. When building or maintaining a data center, prioritizing top-quality power cables is a wise investment with long-term payoffs.

At AnD Cable Products, we understand the critical role power cables and server power cables play in ensuring safe and efficient data center operations. Our power cables are meticulously designed and manufactured to meet the highest standards, using premium materials and adhering to strict certifications.

AnD Cable Products top-quality power cables

By choosing AnD Cable Products, you gain peace of mind knowing your power infrastructure is built on a foundation of quality, reliability, and safety – minimizing future headaches and maximizing data center performance. Request a Quote for bulk orders.

About the Author

Louis Chompff - Founder, AnD Cable Products, Rack and Cable ManagementLouis Chompff – Founder & Managing Director, AnD Cable Products
Louis established AnD Cable Products – Intelligently Designed Cable Management in 1989. Prior to this he enjoyed a 20+ year career with a leading global telecommunications company in a variety of senior data management positions. Louis is an enthusiastic inventor who designed, patented and brought to market his innovative Zero U cable management racks and Unitag cable labels, both of which have become industry-leading network cable management products. AnD Cable Products only offer products that are intelligently designed, increase efficiency, are durable and reliable, re-usable, easy to use or reduce equipment costs. He is the principal author of the Cable Management Blog, where you can find network cable management ideas, server rack cabling techniques and rack space saving tips, data center trends, latest innovations and more.
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