Wire Protection and the Invasion of Alien Space Rats
I was assigned an article on wire protection for a client, and was absolutely stumped. Not being an expert on wire protection or any of the industries served by my website company’s client, I had no idea what to do – until I remembered the Alien Space Rats.
In early 1990 something possessed me to travel to rural Ohio for a six-week course in audio engineering – five weeks of equipment training and a week of troubleshooting. (I still use the concept of signal flow I learned back then to figure out how to hook up my computer, Catch a Call module, wireless phone, answering machine, and surge suppressor so that they all work.)
In the troubleshooting week, our instructor posed the following problem, which he stressed was a real problem: A recording studio operated perfectly, with all its equipment functioning properly – until it rained. Then, mysteriously, the studio would be plagued by the appearance of a 60-cycle hum – a low, rumbling sound that disrupted the recording process – and nothing the techies could do would get rid of it. The instructor joked that it was “Alien Space Rats” and then assigned us, the new audio engineers, the task of defining the problem.
Well, we all discussed the situation extensively and came up with all kinds of possible scenarios that might be causing the 60-cycle hum. None of them were correct. Then the instructor announced the correct answer; it was – Alien Space Rats!
The cables which ran from one area of the studio to another were run underneath the building, in an area where rats managed to get in and gnaw on the cables, breaking through to the bare wire. The damage to the cables didn’t present a problem, until it rained. Then, the moisture that seeped in under the building managed to create a connection between the exposed wire and the ground surrounding the cable, and voila! a 60-cycle hum. Repairing the cables and banishing the Alien Space Rats solved the problem.
And there you have it! The importance of wire protection; wires and cables can act as pulleys moving mechanical parts in everything from a dumbwaiter to a 747, or can transport electrical and electronic impulses which provide power or transmit information. Damage to these wires and cables, from friction, stress fatigue, or alien space rats, can result in problems ranging from the annoying – a mysterious 60-cycle hum – to the deadly – the failure of an essential system in a jumbo jet at 30 thousand feet. The necessity of reliable wire protection techniques and materials extends across every industry involving equipment with mechanical or electrical cables and, in some cases, can mean the difference between safety and catastrophe.