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The Interpower Extrusion Tour

Video Transcript

Hello, my name is Brady Brown with the Interpower Corporation, and today we're going to show you how we take our bare copper and turn it into three conductor finished cable. Let's check it out.

First, bare copper wire is loaded into a dual cone payoff to be unreeled. The dual cone payoff helps contain the wire and guide it as it comes off. Then, it goes through a tensioner that keeps the wire taut and prevents flopping. That’s important, because as it continues to travel, the wire’s diameter is measured before entering the extruder. That measurement is captured on a computer and recorded.
Then the wire goes into the crosshead of the extruder to receive its insulation. Here, two layers of PVC are applied, the first is the foundational layer that makes up the bulk of the thickness. Then, immediately after that, a thin layer of PVC is added to give it its color.

Once the conductor exits the extruder, the diameter is measured again. This is called the hot diameter, as the conductor is around 400-degrees Fahrenheit once it leaves the extruder.  This measurement is captured by the computer, and the before and after extrusion measurements then tell how much PVC insulation was added to the wire.

From here the cable will travel 45 feet in a water trough where it cools down as cold water runs over it.  At the end of cooling, the cable enters the capstan. The capstan is the device that pulls the conductor or cable through most of the process. Once the conductor comes off the capstan, it goes through an air wipe where the cable is blown dry. Then the diameter of the cable is measured once more. This is called the cold diameter.

After that, the cable enters a sparker. This device tests for any defects in the outer jacket insulation. If there are problems, an electrical signal would run through the rest of the line and stop production.

Next the cable winds through a tensioner-accumulator. This device keeps the production going on the front end as changes are happening on the back end. It’ll accumulate cable on its reels if the take-up has filled up. So, where it goes next is to the take-up, a device that rolls the insulated wires onto large green reels.  

The take-up has two sides. When one side fills up, it automatically cuts the cable and begins reeling on the opposite reel. Then, the operator can open a door and pull the full reel off and put an empty reel on, all while reeling continues on the other side.

Now with the single conductor wires complete, it’s time to wind the individual cables into a bundle of three to create a three conductor-wire cable.

Multi-conductor cables usually contain a different color for each wire.  Today, that’s green/yellow, blue and brown. A reel of each of those colors are loaded into what’s called the Neutralizer. This device unwinds the reel in a way that prevents kinks in the cable.

As the cable comes off the reel, it is guided down through a forcing cone where the wires start to come together. A rotating capstan controls the lay and twist of the combined wires. The cable’s lay is the distance between the high point of one wire on one side, to the high point of the same wire on the other side. That distance needs to be within a specification, and the rotating capstan controls that, along with how much twist is applied. Once the wires have been twisted together, it continues to the cabler, where it’s reeled onto a drum. When a reel fills up, it’s stored and retrieved later for the next step in cable manufacturing.

The last stage of making three-wire conductor cable is to extrude a PCV jacket so that it’s one cable.

First the drums of twisted cable are loaded into payoffs to feed into the extrusion line. Off the reel, the cable travels into an accumulator. Here several feet of cable are accumulated so that cable reels can be changed out without having to stop the entire line. Once a reel is empty, there’s about two minutes of accumulation to use before the line stops completely.  The accumulator also helps maintain tension in the line as it travels through the process.

Next the cable goes through a sparker where every inch of the cable is checked to ensure no bare copper is exposed on the insulated cable. If it was, an electrical signal would run through the rest of the line and stop production, indicating a bad part in the cable. That part would be removed before the line is restarted.

Then the cable receives a thin layer of talcum powder. Talcum powder acts as a separator between the cable and the outer jacket that’s applied next. It helps prevent the two from sticking together so that the jacket can be easily stripped off during later processing.

And finally, the cables go into the crosshead of the extruder and come out as a single, extruded cable. The outer jacket of the cable is black, while the inside is white. This reduces the cost of the cable, as the white PVC is less expensive than any colored PVC.

After the extruder, the cable’s diameter is measured. And this would be the hot diameter. Then it goes into the cooling trough. Streams of cold water pour onto the cable as it travels through the trough and eventually reaches the wet capstan. This device is what’s pulling the cable through everything before, setting the speed at which the cable moves through the extruder. It changes speed based on the measurements taken from the hot diameter and the cold diameter, measured later. Pulling too fast can make the insulation thinner, while pulling too slow can make the cable thicker. That speed is controlled by a computer based on measurements in the system.

After it leaves the capstan, the cable travels through an air wipe to remove any remaining water from the cooling process. Then the cable’s cold diameter is measured. This measurement is the product’s final size, as specified by the customer.

Then it’s checked again for any defects…

The product gets labeled as it travels through a printer. The manufacturer’s name and the cable’s specifications are printed for identification.

Next the product travels into an accumulator... And then gets rolled up onto 3500 foot reels. When a reel gets full, it must be changed out. And this is where the accumulator comes in. When the line stops at the end to change out a reel, the accumulator starts to accumulate product giving an operator about one minute to make the change. If the accumulator reaches the top, the line will come to stop. So safe, quick work is essential. Once the reel is changed out, the accumulator releases product and the cable is wound around a new reel, reducing the built up product in the accumulator.

The cable reels are stored and ready for shipping.

The extrusion line at Interpower’s manufacturing facility in Lamoni, Iowa is a sophisticated and complex series of sensors, motors, gauges, and computers, all working together to create quality products worthy of the Interpower name. At Interpower, we strive to provide our customers with quality products that delight, and to do it fast! And with our extrusion line, we are ready to deliver.