Heat-shrink tube is becoming an increasingly popular choice for marking wires and cables in data center infrastructure installations. This trend is largely due to the market availability of newer, multifunctional industrial handheld labeling tools, which can greatly simplify the labeling process for contractors. By simply changing a cartridge, installers can now produce clean, legible, permanent heat-shrink labels on demand, along with durable thermal cable flags, cable wraps or faceplate labels, all using a single handheld tool.
With the advent of new labeling standards (ANSI/TIA 606-B) and increased demand for clean, professionally marked installations, heat-shrink tubing gives contractors and their work crews added flexibility. Once users learn the basics, the newer and more advanced labeling tools make the use of heat-shrink tubing fast, easy and economical.
The Advantages of Heat-Shrink Tube Labels
Heat-shrink tubing is thin, flexible material that contracts and secures firmly to the wire or cable when heated. Heat-shrink cable-marking tube is used primarily for marking electrical wire and cable and, in some instances, may provide an added level of durability or insulation for the project. After printing and cutting the label, the heat-shrink tube slides easily over the cable or cable bundle and can be shrunk snugly against the cable using a conventional heat gun. The finished effect is a smooth, semi-permanent identifier and professional-quality marking, both of which are called for in the 606-B Standard.
There are several reasons why a contractor might elect to use labeled heat-shrink tubing rather than standard labels in professional data center installations. For example:
- Insulation: Heat-shrink labels are resistant to heat, abrasion and weather conditions. The tubing also helps to seal water and dust out of cable splices, providing a barrier against moisture ingress and protecting cables from damage by any corrosive chemicals to which they might be exposed.
- Aesthetics: The heat-shrink tube provides a very smooth and neat termination for ends of braided sleeving and improves the overall look of cables in a data center or other cabling installation. Heat-shrink tubing can even be used for a streamlined look in wire harnesses or cable assemblies designed for use in custom cars and motorcycles.
- Bundle and organize hard-to-wrap cable: Heat-shrink tube can be a practical and cost-effective option for marking small-gauge wire and fiber-optic cable strands that can be difficult to wrap neatly using conventional label materials.
- Strength: A heat-shrink tube label finish can be great for bundling cables and can also provide effective strain relief. By providing an extra layer of support, heat-shrink tubes can prevent flexing or bending crimps at the wire-to-termination point. In addition, they can be a more permanent and durable labeling solution for network patch cords, as well as other cable identifiers.
Specifying and Applying Heat-Shrink Tube Labels
Specifying the right heat-shrink tubing size will depend on the outer diameter of the wire, cable or bundle you plan to enclose. Most heat-shrink tube comes in a range of sizes, each of which typically shrinks to about one-half the original size after heat is applied. Check out product offerings and selection guidelines from leading manufacturers to learn more about how to choose the right size or sizes for the data center and for other wire and cable installations.
The only other items needed for applying heat-shrink tube labeling are a robust, industrial-grade thermal transfer labeling tool and a commercial heat gun. Advancements in labeling technology have resulted in faster, double-duty labelers capable of meeting a whole range of cable and component marking requirements. You can find these leading-edge printers priced affordably for the entire work crew, who can then use interchangeable drop-in cartridges to quickly and easily create clear, legible traditional thermal labels and heat-shrink tubing labels.
In shrinking the tube labels, installers should first check the tube specification for recommended temperature. After printing, they simply slide the tubing over the cable or bundle and apply the requisite heat treatment using any commercial heat gun. To avoid inadvertent overheating, the work can be rotated as heat is applied until the tube shrinks and adheres firmly to the cable or cable bundles.
To ensure high-quality wire and cable marking, it’s important to look for a rugged, double-duty labeling tool that prints clearly and legibly directly on the heat-shrink tubing, without smearing, streaking or blurring. Avoid dual-process labelers that require positioning a clear heat-shrink overlay on the printed label, as they just take longer and complicate the process. With the right labeling system, applying heat-shrink tube labels is fast and easy, once you know how to select the right size and follow the directions for shrinking.
Perhaps most importantly, the uniformly neat and orderly appearance of all the data center wires, cables and components signifies a highly professional installation—and one that meets the best-practice guidelines set forth in the ANSI/TIA 606-B Standards.
About the Author
Craig Robinson, RCDD, manages growth strategy as well as channel, and business-development initiatives for the Brother P-Touch Edge brand of products. Brother Mobile Solutions is a premier provider of innovative on-demand mobile printing and labeling solutions for the mobile workforce. For more information, visit www.edgelabeling.com.