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There are currently a number of different polymeric Polyethylenes are classified by their density, which is
materials that are specified for cable sheaths (jackets), directly related to the crystallinity level of the polyethylene.
and the choice of a suitable material depends on the end The higher the level of crystallinity, the higher the density
usage. of the polyethylene. As the level of crystallinity increases,
so does the “toughness” and abrasion resistance of the
Materials currently used are polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polymer. All grades of polyethylene sheathing materials
polyethylene (LLDPE, MDPE and HDPE), and the more have a 90-degree Celsius operating temperature.
specialised fire retardant, low smoke and zero halogen
type materials that are now being required for internal Linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE) is the successor
installations. to LDPE, and exhibits superior abrasion resistance. It’s
relatively low coefficient of friction compared to PVC
All of the above materials are specified in AS/NZS 3808, makes it suitable for long pulls through cable ducts.
“Insulation and sheathing materials for electric cables” LLDPE sheathed cables are reasonably similar to PVC in
With the exception of when a PVC sheath is used in terms of their “handleability”, but LLDPE is not as tough or
conjunction with PVC insulation, all materials are rated for abrasion resistant as MDPE or HDPE.
a continuous conductor temperature of 90 degrees Medium density polyethylene (MDPE) is frequently
Celsius (PVC/PVC 75 degrees Celsius). specified when a higher level of toughness and abrasion
resistance is required.
The principal advantages of PVC sheaths are that they
are relatively low cost and inherently flame retardant. PVC High-density polyethylene (HDPE) is usually specified
has a long record of proven performance within the when a high level of abrasion resistance is required.
electrical industry.The formulation of PVC sheathing Because of the very tough nature of this material, handling
compounds can be readily modified to enhance physical of larger sizes of cable can become an issue due to its
properties, and fire performance. Where UV exposure is reduced flexibility. One downside of HDPE is that the
an issue Carbon Black is the most efficient UV stabiliser. material can be “notch sensitive” which can result in
Certain standards (eg AS/NZS 4961 neutral wire screened cracks if the surface is badly scored during installation.
cables) specify that the sheath include a minimum of 1%
CB. On the other hand, AS/NZS 3000 (Wiring Rules) Because of the high shrinkage factor of HDPE after
3.3.12 Note 1 states that "sheathed cables exposed to processing (due to the high crystallinity level), a PVC
direct UV sunlight do not require further protection from bedsheath is normally employed underneath the sheath in
ultraviolet light radiation as the sheath is considered to medium voltage cables to prevent undue pressure on the
provide the necessary protection". Our standard PVC underlying screen wires.
sheath compounds (eg used in Orange Circulars) have a
high opacity that limits penetration of UV light into the All types of polyethylene sheathed cables containing a
sheath. Thus, while surface effects may occur on Orange minimum of 2% carbon black exhibit good UV resistance.
Circular cables, such as some colour fading, the If alternative colours are required, then additional UV
underlying PVC is not exposed to UV radiation and will stabiliser will be required if the cable will be exposed to
continue to protect the cable core in accordance with sunlight.
AS/NZS 3000. For non-black PVC sheaths with reduced
wall thickness (<1 mm), the addition of UV-stabilisers is Where a fire retardant, low smoke, zero halogen sheath is
recommended. required, then materials are selected on the fire
performance requirements. These materials are usually
With the exception of paper insulated lead covered ethylene/vinyl acetate based, and contain inorganic filler
cables, the use of polyethylene as a cable sheath is that releases moisture when exposed to a fire situation,
relatively new to the NZ market, however these materials which retards the spread of fire along the cable. These
have been widely used for many years in the telephone materials will meet requirements of AS/NZS 3808 “HFS-
cables area. In the USA this is the material of choice for 90”.
power cable jackets. It must be remembered that
polyethylene sheathed cables are not fire retardant, but Nylon can also be specified as an additional sheath over
this is not an issue in the majority of installations. the existing PVC or polyethylene sheath where additional
physical or chemical protection is required. (e.g. termite or

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Diagrams of cables are illustrative only and are not necessarily to scale.

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