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A Cable Too Long

January 22, 2013

A Cable Too Long

Q:

I am currently reviewing a URD circuit with a cable segment that is 6,200′ per our one-line and GIS. It is our regular #2 db [direct buried] cable. I am considering the installation of pull-boxes to break up the many long segments prior to attempting injection. What is the practical limit to TDR [time-domain reflectometer] testing?

What is the practical injection limit? I assume in the best case that there at least a construction splice every 2000 feet, but there may be more that have to be replaced.Attenuation and dispersion blur TDR results, but a skilled and knowledgeable operator can work around these two phenomena.[/dt_teaser]A:

For background on how TDRs work, check out my October 1, 2011 post, “Reflections on a TDR”. A TDR sends a radar-like pulse down a cable. Like radar, a portion of the pulse is reflected when it “hits” objects along the cable path. Objects are anything that has a modestly different impedance (resistance, capacitance, and/or inductance) from that of the cable. Splices, cable ends, and neutral corrosion are generally identifiable. These objects are often called impedance anomalies, because the impedance varies locally from that of the cable.

There are two phenomena that reduce the acuity of the TDR—attenuation and dispersion. In the image nearby I illustrate the practical effects of attenuation and dispersion. As a wave travels along a cable its amplitude decays because no cable is without loss. When a male bullfrog croaks into a pipe, the volume decreases with distance because the sound wave amplitude attenuates. The attenuation is due to the imperfections in the molecular collisions. A portion of the sound waves are converted to heat. The same thing happens in the cable as electrons bounce among the cloud of conductor d-orbitals.

The second effect is dispersion and it too is the result of imperfections. Instead of loosing energy, dispersion smears energy because the rate that the signal moves through the cable is not uniform through its cross section. Skin effects and twisted stranding act to disperse the wave. Copper tape neutrals have a particularly nasty dispersion.

Simply recognizing these two effects helps the skilled operator interpret the observed wave shapes. Longer cables and those with more splices or corrosion will have shorter and more dispersed reflections.

Tactics to Improve Acuity

Of course the operator can use the TDR from both ends of the cable. This tactic effectively doubles the TDR’s resolution.

The next choice in the operator’s toolbox is to increase the pulse width. At the expense of resolving smaller or closely spaced impedance anomalies, wider pulse widths are the brute-force way to overcome both attenuation and dispersion.

A third choice is to divide and conquer. Each construction or repair splice that is excavated provides an opportunity to TDR the two subsegments of cable from the splice in each direction.

Every cable is different, but more than likely the TDR should be able to identify all of the splices on a 6,200-foot run of No.2 URD cable employing just one or two of the aforementioned tactics.

Injection Length Limits

At Novinium, we know no bounds. We have a variety of patented injection paradigms to address long cable lengths. The preferred method for such a cable is Sustained Pressure Rejuvenation (SPR). With SPR subsegments of cable are injected from termination-to-splice and from splice-to-splice. As you suggest, the longest run would likely be 2000 feet, the typical length of a cable reel. We have a model that allows us to predict injection times with great precision. Assuming your No.2 cable has round strands and 175 mils of XLPE insulation, a 2000-foot run utilizing SPR would require about 46 hours of injection time. We have treated cable subsegments that are several miles long and we have additional tools available for the most challenging circumstances.

With SPR the cable subsegments are typically de-energized during the injection process. If having the circuit deenergized for several days is not palatable, Novinium has still more tools at its disposable including flow-though splice technology that supports SPR. Of course, your suggestion of creating shorter subsegments by installing intermediate pull-boxes is another choice that can reduce the injection time.

Flow through really long runs of cable using older approaches is problematic. The challenges and the solution for really long cables, like submarine cables, are included in U.S. Patent 7,976,747 and in the paper, “Advances in Chemical Rejuvenation of Submarine Cables” presented at the Jicable conference in Versailles France in June 2007.

In short, we have many tools to address every conceivable situation. Talk to our field engineering team to explore all the options, or write back to me with more details and constraints. Check out our senior field Engineer Norm Keitges splashing in Puget Sound. He must have thought for a moment that he was a frog, because we generally frown on humans swimming on the job.