Cable drag chains are used in machine tools, process and automation machinery, vehicle transporters, vehicle washing systems, cranes and in many other ways. These products come in an extremely large variety of sizes and configurations, and in two main material types – plastic or steel.
In this article Martin Buttkereit discusses the significant benefits that the steel variety, often unduly overlooked by designers and specifiers, can offer over their plastic counterparts.
Historically all cable drag chains were manufactured from steel, however as for many other products, plastic alternatives have grown in popularity over time. Although now prolific in some application areas, plastic cable drag chains are not always the most appropriate solution, and their steel cousins can often be a more robust and effective choice.
Other than the lightest duty applications, where there are no adverse environmental considerations, and where plastic cable drag chain is likely to be more cost effective, steel cable chain remains a highly viable option across the medium to heavy-duty application sectors. This is especially the case in areas where conditions are harsh. For example, where hot swarf or chips are present, an enclosed steel cable chain will provide the ultimate protection and deliver a long service life.
Available in both enclosed and open versions, Buttkereit’s range of steel cable chain products can also be supplied in stainless steel or even hardened steel if required. In addition, there are versions available for long travel and rotary applications if necessary.
A further benefit of the steel variety is its greater strength and resistance to the effects of operators or maintenance personnel who can often inadvertently step on the chain. The steel chain will not bend or break and continue to protect the cables, and / or hoses within the chain. In addition, where the maximum continuous operating temperatures of some plastic cable chain systems is around 1000C, steel cable chain can easily withstand temperatures of up to 6000C, with no adverse effects.
Plastic cable chains can sometimes be susceptible to wear when used in machine tool applications, or in areas where the chain may come into contact with materials of an abrasive nature. Steel on the other hand is much more resilient and will have a much longer service life in almost all applications. Steel cable chains are easy to lengthen or shorten to suit specific applications and with spares readily available, any maintenance required can be achieved quickly.
Steel cable chains definitely come into their own, and remain first choice, for heavy-duty applications, where they will generally always out-perform plastic types in terms of strength to weight ratio and un-supported length or span.
With their extended longevity, strength, resistance to high temperatures and harsh environments, steel cable chains will continue to be the first choice for many new applications and are definitely worthy of serious consideration as replacements for damaged or broken plastic types.