Coding on wires can be used to relay a variety of information. SmartWire from Windy City Wire, Hillside, Ill., features sequential foot markers, function labeling and a zone coding system.

As more and more companies consider their exposure to liability, business operators are turning to electronic access control systems to provide a measure of security against having the wrong person enter their facility and cause harm or damage. Access to a place of business needs to be restricted to provide a safe and pleasant environment for employees.

This is one factor that is increasing demand for the installation of access control systems, and it coincides with lower costs of these systems and new technological approaches. One way the cost is being reduced is through labor reductions in laying the cable for an access control installation.

“Access control is definitely a growth area, and it’s something that’s becoming more economical to install,” points out Carl Fedders, product manager for low voltage, Coleman Cable, Waukegan, Ill. “Companies are putting a greater focus on controlling areas of their buildings for access for liability concerns.”

The labor of installing wires is the largest single cost of many access control installations, so any method of reducing labor will save dealers and integrators time and money.

One type of product that can be used with some access control systems is an assembly of several wires, usually four, to send power to and from the reader, to the electric locking device on the door, to the request-to-exit device and to the door contact.

“You pull them just like you pull four separate cables,” points out Steve Sterling, cable products marketing manager, Honeywell, Pleasant Prairie, Wis., about cable assemblies.

“We’re seeing some growth in bundled access control cable that allows you to pull a single construction all at one time to a reader or a door,” Fedders agrees. “That really reduces the amount of labor required, and sometimes the number of people required to actually pull the cable.”

In the past, dealer/integrators would be more concerned about the selection of hardware than cable, recalls Mike Schmittinger, vice president sales and marketing, Keystone Wire and Cable, Bristol, Pa.

“Labor typically is the difference between getting the job and not getting the job — it’s the cost of manpower, so the quicker you can turn jobs around, then the more money you make,” Schmittinger notes. “The bigger installation companies, particularly doing commercial applications, figured that out and they’re the customers that come and buy these specialty cables.”

But standardizing cable constructions can be difficult with the variety of access control equipment available, stresses Juan Gudino, marketing manager for low-voltage cables and fiber optics for Belden Americas, Richmond, Ind.

“Each has different ways of doing their own equipment,” Gudino observes of manufacturers. “Every system may have their own nuance on how they want it installed. Probably in 2005, the market was $2 billion in access control, with nobody having more than a 5 percent market share on the equipment side.

“The market is quite fragmented, and that fragmentation is going to have an impact on how they utilize cable constructions,” he declares. “I have had so many different constructions. We just tried to come up with more common considerations that could supply 70 to 80 percent of the applications out there.”

Adds Fedders, “I will say that a lot of the actual wire that you need does seem to vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. I’ve talked with a lot of access control companies recently, and the actual build of the cables is slightly different, depending on the manufacturer. Some of them need it shielded, and for some it doesn’t matter if it’s shielded. It’s necessary to check with the manufacturer.”

Variations in the standard cable assemblies are required from some manufacturers because some access control systems require different gauges and combinations of wire than are available in many assemblies. “You may have to pull wires separately if you can’t find a combination cable that meets the requirements of your electronics,” Sterling notes.

Reports Schmittinger, “A lot of the installers are still running separate cables.”

Color coding is one way of identifying different wires in an access control assembly, such as banana peel composite cable from Belden Americas, Richmond, Ind.


Custom cable assemblies also can be supplied by some vendors. “We do a fair amount of custom assemblies, although we do sell more of the regular assembly,” declares Keystone’s Schmittinger.

He estimates a minimum order for a custom access control wiring assembly would be 10,000 feet, which probably would be for a job in which several buildings were being wired for access control. One custom order Schmittinger remembers included special jacket colors and printing on the inside cables and on the jacket. “It’s all very much customized to the job that [the installer is] doing,” Schmittinger explains.

Gudino reports that his company can supply custom cable, but is hesitant to name a minimum order quantity. “I don’t have a cookie-cutter answer,” he replies. “It could be 10,000 to 15,000 to 20,000 feet depending on the job, the end user, and the importance from a corporate standpoint. You could say 10,000 feet is a minimum — 10,000 and up depending on the opportunity.”

One factor affecting the gauge of cable is the length of the cable run. Longer cable runs require thicker wire to compensate for the loss of electricity due to electrical resistance. Gudino thinks most standard cable assemblies are not designed to be run longer than 500 feet.

“The most important thing is to match your cable with your systems’ requirements,” Sterling advises. “If it’s a long run, you might not be able to use 22-gauge wire — you may need 18-gauge.”

Some cable assemblies are held together with a single outer jacket that extends around all the wires in the assembly. Proponents of assemblies that are held together without jackets maintain that not having to strip away the outer jacket saves installation time. Another disadvantage, according to Gudino, is that “having a jacket over all four cables makes it really stiff. You also have a tighter bending radius,” he maintains, adding that not having the outer jacket makes the assembly stronger.

But those whose assemblies have outer jackets cite several advantages to them.

“You just have one more layer of protection over the wire,” Fedders points out. “If you do pull it over something that is sharp, it will help protect the inside wires that all have their own individual jackets as well.”

Schmittinger agrees. “What I do see is these bundled cables become sturdier and a more solid piece when they’re all together as opposed to four different cables, and when pulling through plenum areas, there’s a lot of beams that you run around that easily could nick the cables,” he insists. “Then it’s hours finding where it’s nicked or kinked. When you buy them this way, it makes it a lot easier to pull cables.”

Jacketless construction on cable assemblies like Profusion from Honeywell, Pleasant Prairie, Wis., can increase flexibility and make color coding more immediately apparent. PHOTO COURTESY OF HONEYWELL


The cable to the reader usually is a pair of twisted wires. This helps prevent electromagnetic (EMI) or radio frequency (RFI) interference from the environment or from the other wires in the assembly.

Interference also is prevented by the use of shielding, such as foil on at least the reader cables or all of the cables in many assemblies. Sterling maintains some assemblies in which all the cables are shielded are not much more expensive than ones in which only the reader cables are shielded, depending on the efficiency of its manufacture. Consequently, he recommends keeping shielded cable in stock so that when a system requires it, it is available.

“As long as you’re using shielded cable on the access control reader, you’re probably not going to have problems,” he believes. “However, you always need to review all of the information that the electronics manufacturer supplies.”

Some companies produce shielded cable with a different color of jacket from unshielded so it can be identified easily. “Once you run cable, it’s not as simple as running it back on the spool you have — that wire’s done,” Schmittinger points out. “So you have twice the labor and cost. It’s really a disaster when you’re working in tight spaces, and you have to pull out the wire you run. Time is money, so we’ve tried to differentiate between the products.”


Regarding quality, the most important factor is to be sure the wire being used meets the National Electrical Code (NEC). If plenum or riser wire is required by code, it must be used, Sterling emphasizes.

“You need to make sure when selecting a product that you’re using a quality cable, because having to repull the cable eventually is going to cost you a lot more money than using the correct product to begin with,” Fedders points out.

He also is cautionary about wire bargains. “If you see a big price decrease, there probably is something different about the wire in other areas, because many quality wire manufacturers make the wire very similarly,” he maintains. “We’ve seen undersized gauges of copper.”

Plenum wire is formulated with a jacket that produces less smoke when burned. The cost differential is approximately 30 percent, Schmittinger estimates.

The cable used should meet the appropriate test from an agency such as UL, ETL or CSA. Check to make sure the wire’s jacket is the right thickness. They usually are made of various types of PVC plastic.

“You don’t want something being pulled over a piece of metal, and the jacket starts puncturing and ripping,” Sterling warns. “If the insulation is punctured, the signal could be shorted out. I’ve seen bad insulation, bad jackets, I’ve seen where it doesn’t meet required UL burn tests, I’ve seen shorts.”

Is wiring considered a commodity? “Wire is considered a commodity,” Schmittinger admits. “To a lot of people, wire is the afterthought. I sell wire – that’s all I do. My job is to make you feel that it’s special.”

Sidebar: Copper, PVC Price Increases Are Causing Wire Prices to Skyrocket

Since high-grade copper and PVC prices started increasing, the cost of wire has become unstable. As of press time, the most expensive that high-grade copper had been on the COMEX index was $407.55 per pound on May 23 compared with $71.30 on January 1, 2003. Many of the largest price spikes have occurred since January 1 of this year, when the price was $216.80.

“Copper has never been this high in the history of COMEX reporting,” declares Mike Schmittinger, vice president of sales and marketing for Keystone Wire and Cable, Bristol, Pa.

“You almost have to look daily at copper,” says Carl Fedders, product manager for low voltage, Coleman Cable, Waukegan, Ill. “Not even three years ago, copper was 75 cents a pound. It has increased more than four-fold over the last three years.”

Juan Gudino, marketing manager for low-voltage cables and fiber optics, Belden Americas, Richmond, Ind., says, “It is quite a different ball game, like dealing on a bubble market.”

Schmittinger estimates the cost of cable has doubled as a result. He attributes the copper price increases partially to strikes or wars in the few third-world countries where copper mines are located, but mostly to increasing demand from large countries that are industrializing rapidly.

“Now demand is coming into play, because you have India and China with these massive populations where everyone wants what Americans have,” he asserts. “That’s a lot of wire. So the demand for copper is extremely high right now. It’s a raw material, so it does not have an infinite supply. There’s no shortage of people who want their homes wired up; everyone wants the Internet, a telephone, satellite TV.”

The same thing is happening with oil prices, which affect the cost of the PVC that goes into wire jacketing, Schmittinger points out.

Fedders cites additional causes for copper price increases. “Most recently, it’s been a lot of speculative investors getting into the market who drove copper up higher than it needed to go, but there are real issues, such as demand for copper in China and India,” he concedes. “I know a lot of copper comes out of Brazil, so if there is any political instability in those areas, that affects the prices, as well.”

Schmittinger observes that there aren’t many alternatives to copper wire, although fiber optic cable is now “ringing” some cities.

Agrees Fedders, “Some industries are able to switch — plumbing can substitute PVC piping for copper, but as far as wire, there is not much of a substitute. For networking, fiber optics is there, but for just signaling and communications, burglar alarms and access control, fiber is not a viable option, and neither is wireless.”

Schmittinger points out that even on a fiber optic network, when it enters a home, “it has to be switched over to copper, and switching devices cost money. So it takes a little time for the technology to become cheap enough to be mainstream, and those techniques have to be learned by installers, and that’s a long way from happening.

“Before all this uptick started, wire definitely was a commodity, but it now requires more thought,” he stresses.