Instrumentation Cable: What Are They and Differ Other cables

Within the world driven by information and data, instrumentation cables are probably one of the most important types of cables we deal with today. They serve as vital conduits for carrying critical data and control signals, and contributes significantly to the precision and dependability of automated systems. This writing aims to offer an in-depth look at instrumentation cables, covering what they are, how they are constructed, available types, and how they differ from other types of cables, such as control and electrical cables. Let’s start.

What is instrumentation cable?

Instrumentation cable, a distinct category of electrical cable, is engineered for the transmission of low-energy signals or data within industrial environments. Its primary application lies in the measurement, control, and regulation across a spectrum of automated processes. These multi-conductors cables are known for their resilience to temperature changes, chemical exposure, and certain mechanical stress. The conductors in instrumentation cables are commonly twisted into pairs, triple and quadruple to cancel out electromagnetic interferences and minimize noise.

instrumentation cable

Instrumentation cable works by connecting sensors and measuring devices to control units or data loggers to measure parameters (e,g. temperature, pressure, and flow rate) for control and regulation. Generally, these cables are used in the petrochemical and pharmaceutical industries, emergency shutdown systems, and other process industries where accurate and reliable signal transmission is critical, with 18 AWG, 16 AWG, and 12 AWG wire being the most common instrument cable specifications.

Given their critical role in process control and data systems, instrumentation cable must adhere to stringent standards like BS 5308 to ensure effective operation. Below, let’s take a look at instrument cable’s construction requirement.

How Is An Instrumentation Cable Constructed?

Instrumentation cables are meticulously constructed to ensure reliable and accurate signal transmission, the composition involves several key components:

1. Conductor: Bare or tinned copper, available in stranded and solid forms.

2. Insulation: Insulation materials can vary according to specific requirements, but PVC, XLPE, PE, and silicone materials are mainly used.

3. Shielding: The shielding is available in aluminum foil shielding, tinned copper braid shielding, or a combination of both; and can be applied individually to each pair of conductors or collectively to all conductors within the cable.

4. Drain Wire: a drain wire is typically included along with the shield to provide an accessible path to ground the shield.

5. Inner sheath: Over the shielded conductors, an inner sheath may be added for additional protection and to bind the core together.

6. Armor(Optional): In cables used in harsh environments or where mechanical protection is required, an armored layer may be added. Armor is made of steel wire (SWA cable), steel tape (SWT), aluminum wire(AWA), or other durable materials.

7. Outer Sheath: The final layer of the cable that provides overall mechanical protection and resistance to environmental factors like moisture, chemicals, and UV light, typically made of PVC, LSZH, or XLPO.

From the relatively controlled indoor setting to the harsh outdoor environments, each layer in the instrumentation electrical wire plays an essential role in ensuring its performance, durability, and reliability. Following we’ll talk about a few commonly used instrument cable types.

Types of Instrumentation Cables

Instrumentation cables come in various types, each designed to meet specific requirements in industrial settings. Here are some of the best instrument cables:

instrumentation cable type

  • PVC Instrument cable  (individual and overall shielded variants)

As the name suggests, this type of cable features an outer coating made of Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), an arguably popular thermoplastic insulation material owing to its impeccable features and cost-effectiveness. The material is characteristically resistant to fire, scrap, and moisture. More importantly, it meets several essential instrumentation cable standards, including BS-EN-50288, UL 2250, IEC 60502, etc.

  • XLPE Instrument cable (individual and overall shielded variants)

The XLPE instrumentation cable is constructed with top-of-the-line thermal and moisture-resistant cross-linked polyethylene material. This type of insulation material features strong molecular three-dimensional bond structures. Like the PVC instrumentation cable, the cable’s construction consists of highly flexible stranded copper conductors for maximum electrical conductivity. Still, it can withstand higher operating temperatures and harsher chemical exposures than PVC cable.

  • Armoured Instrument Cable(individual and overall shielded variants)

What sets armoured instrumentation cables apart is the armoring layer, which protects the internal conductors and enhances the cable’s overall robustness. These cables are designed for outdoor and underground installations where additional mechanical protection is required (e.g. impact, crush, and rodent damage), but are also more costly.

Additionally, there are thermocouple cable, LSZH instrumentation cable, and shielded instrument cable available in the market, as a specialized manufacturer of instrument cables, we have 23 years of experience and can offer it all; however, for the scope of this discussion, we will not delve into further details. Instead, let’s shift our focus to comparing instrumentation cables with control cables.

What is the difference between control cable and instrumentation cable?

Although control and instrumentation cables are integral to industrial settings, and are sometimes used interchangeably, they have distinct characteristics and applications:

instrumentation cable vs control cable

Construction and Design:

  • Control Cables: They are generally constructed to handle higher power applications and are often built to withstand environmental stress like extreme temperatures, oils, and UV exposure. They are often used to carry power signals used to control or drive machinery.
  • Instrumentation Cables: These are designed for transmitting low-energy data or communication signals. They often have individual and overall shielding to protect the integrity of the delicate signals being transmitted. The focus is on precision and noise reduction.

Electrical Characteristics:

  • Control Cables: They have a design optimized for power transmission with higher current-carrying capacity. They can handle higher voltages compared to instrument cables.
  • Instrumentation Cables: These cables have a focus on maintaining signal integrity. They have lower power handling capabilities but are better suited for accurate signal transmission with minimal loss or interference.

In summary, while both types of cables are crucial in industrial and automation environments, control cables are more oriented towards power distribution and direct control of equipment, whereas instrumentation cablings are focused on accurate and interference-free transmission of signals and data. Following this topic is another comparison between instrument cable and electrical cable.

control cable
Control Cable Basics: Types, Size&Color Code

Imagine when we give instructions in an automation system, how can we ensure that the information is accurately executed? In which the most critical transmission component is the control cable. Control cables are multi-core cables for automation and instrumentation applications that measure and regulate the transmission of automated processes. Why control...

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What is the difference between electrical and instrument cable?

The difference between electrical cables and instrument cables lies primarily in their intended use, construction, and sensitivity to Interference, as detailed below:

  1. Intended Use:
  • Electrical Cables: These are chiefly designed for transmitting electrical power, serving as a fundamental component in power distribution systems. Various devices, machinery, and lighting systems can be powered by power cable – basically the backbone of the electrical infrastructure.
  • Instrument Cables: Shielded instrument cable are specifically crafted for transmitting signals in control and instrumentation processes, instrument cables are essential in connecting sensors, transmitters, and other measurement devices. Their primary function is to transmit data and signal communication, distinguishing them from power transmission cables.
  1. Construction and Design:
  • Electrical Cables: These cables are constructed to handle a wide range of voltages and are often heavily insulated to safely conduct electrical power. They come in various sizes and configurations, depending on the voltage level and current requirements of the application.
  • Instrument Cables are typically lighter and more flexible, with finer conductors, and are designed for low-voltage signal transmission. They often contain specific shielding to protect signals from electromagnetic and radio frequency interference.
  1. Sensitivity to Interference:
  • Instrumentation Cables: Highly sensitive to external noise and interference, as such disturbances can significantly affect the transmitted signal quality.
  • Electrical Cables: Less sensitive to interference but still require proper insulation and grounding for safety and efficiency.

That’s say, instrumentation cables are specialized for signal transmission in control and monitoring applications, focusing on preserving signal integrity, while electrical cables are designed for power distribution, emphasizing the safe and efficient transfer of electrical energy.

Bottom Line

Each type of cable – be it control, electrical, or instrumentation – holds a significant position within its respective domain. Instrumentation cables are particularly essential for the transmission of signals in control and measurement applications, playing a fundamentally important role in the precise operation of our data-centric society. The construction of these cables can range from PVC, and XLPE to armoured varieties, each meticulously engineered to ensure precise and reliable signal transmission. For those seeking ‘instrumentation cable near me’, ZW Cable stands out as a distinguished and trustworthy instrumentation cable manufacturers in this sector. With a diverse array of customized cables, ZW Cable can be tailored to the specific needs of your project, ensuring optimal performance and reliability.

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About Me
Richard Zi
Richard Zi

My name is Richard Zi, and serve as the General Manager of ZW Cable. With a deep and extensive background of more than 15 years in the cable industry, I am excited to share my wealth of knowledge and experience.ZW Cable is a renowned company in the field of cable manufacturing in world, we specialize in selecting the best cable sizes and effectively solving all your cable challenges. If you have any questions or needs regarding cable solutions, please contact me and I assure you of the highest standards of personalized and effective guidance and support.View All My Posts >>

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