Smart Buildings

Harsh Environments: Define Your Space, Then Choose Your Cable

Cary Adams
Discover the three steps you need to take to choose the proper cabling for your harsh environment.


The terms “harsh” and “demanding” are used frequently in our industry to describe different environments. In fact, we receive lots of questions from customers about whether a specific product or type of cable construction can be used in a “harsh environment”—without any additional information about what makes that environment so “harsh” or unique.


To us, this seems like a somewhat backwards way of working—and an approach that could cause poor performance later.


Here’s a relatable, real-world example of what we mean. When it comes to new appliances, you wouldn’t ever choose a cleanser first—bleach, glass cleaner, microfiber cloth or melamine foam, for example—and then later shop for a stainless-steel oven that can be cleaned with the product you bought.


Instead, you select and purchase an oven based on its performance, features and aesthetics. Once you find what you want, then you read cleaning-product labels (or call a cleaning service) to discover which products will work to clean your new stainless-steel oven.


When we field questions about whether a specific cable will work in a harsh environment, it tells us that the customer is likely attempting to pick out a cable first and figure out later whether the cable they chose can be installed in their environment.


Most network failures are due to signal transmission issues, which makes selecting the right cable critical to maintain performance and data flow.


How do you find a cable that will work in your “harsh” environment? We recommend working in the opposite direction of what we described above. Here are the three steps you should follow.


1. Define What’s “Harsh” About Your Environment

Describing your environment as “harsh” or “demanding” isn’t enough to guide you (or us) to the right cabling and connectivity products. The term is too broad.


A “demanding” environment doesn’t have to be a power plant or manufacturing floor. It can range from a hospital that uses harsh cleaners in operating rooms to a classroom where chemistry experiments are conducted—or even a large stadium that spans indoor and outdoor spaces.


It could imply the presence of:

  • Water
  • Extreme temperatures
  • Dust and dirt
  • Chemicals
  • Oils
  • Excessive movement
  • Electrical noise
  • Possible sparks


Determine what makes your environment “harsh.” Talk to the people who work in the space every day to understand what happens there, how they work and what systems are used.


Knowing and understanding MICE classifications can be helpful. They classify four environmental elements (mechanical, ingress, climatic/chemical and electromagnetic) across three categories of severity.


2. Verify Cable-Performance Requirements

Determine what type of performance you need from your network in terms of factors like speed, bandwidth, latency and power requirements. Consider questions like:


  • What kinds of activities will be performed? Will critical, time-sensitive images or test results be shared back and forth?

  • Will real-time applications rely on data to function properly?

  • How many people and devices will use the network, and how much data will be transmitted?

  • How much downtime can the organization manage?


3. Choose a Cabling System

Select a cabling system that aligns with your speed, bandwidth, latency and power requirements. Then—and this is important—take steps to verify whether your environment will be detrimental to that cabling system, based on what defines it as “harsh” (exposure to UV rays, abrasion, oils, etc.).


Here’s an example of why this is critical. Let’s assume that you choose office-grade cables for the high levels of performance they provide. But you deploy them in a location where they’ll rub against robotic equipment or come into contact with moisture (a pool area, for example). The result: Those cables will degrade quickly and require premature replacement because they weren’t designed to withstand the abrasion or moisture that is present in the environment.


How to Find Cables for Your Harsh Environment

Different cables are designed to support different kinds of environments. Cables designed for “harsh” environments differ from regular cables in several ways:


  • Jacket material. Different jacket materials, such as PVC, TPE or XPLE, are made to guard against different kinds of exposure, from solvents and UV rays to weld splatter and rodent damage.

  • Construction. The design and assembly of cables can determine where they will perform best. For example, how fiber strands are placed inside a cable—loose with flexibility to move around within thermoplastic tubes or tight-buffered with an individual buffer on each strand—will determine where they should be installed.

  • Insulation. The type of insulation inside a cable can help safeguard it against damage caused by environmental conditions like extreme temperatures, chemicals, etc.

  • Durability and flexion. Some cables are engineered to withstand higher numbers of torsional flexes or rolling bend flexes for applications that require movement, such as robotic systems, medical devices and aerospace and defense systems.


Belden offers cables for all kinds of environments—including “harsh” or “demanding” applications that post tough working conditions for cables. If you can tell us what’s happening in your environment, then we can steer you to the right solutions.

Learn more about our high-performance products.


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