Clear, accurate labeling of components in professionally installed low-voltage telecom, datacom, audio/video and security network systems provides quality assurance and warranty protection.
By Craig Robinson
An accurate and complete infrastructure labeling system is essential to every professionally installed structured cabling and communications system. Whether the project is a new construction or an upgrade of a business network, data center, audio/video (A/V) or security infrastructure, the ANSI/TIA 606-B Structured Cabling standard details a comprehensive labeling scheme that reflects industry best practices.
Used in conjunction with a dynamic cabling management system, the labeling of wires, cables and connectivity components simplifies maintenance and troubleshooting later, saving time and costs when the time comes for moves, adds and changes (MACs) or repairs. Standards-based labeling also lowers the long-term cost of ownership, and ensures quality assurance and audit compliance with manufacturer and installer warranty terms.
The latest ANSI/TIA 606-B standard for component identification and administration now covers more facility classes of every size and type--from small office buildings to large commercial enterprises, corporate campuses and data centers--and adds more granularity to labeling and identification specifications within each of these facilities. While not mandatory, the standard provides guidelines to help professional contractors and installers ensure quality assurance for the long term. That's why increasing numbers of facility owners, managers and IT directors, as well as network system designers, integrators, contractors and installers are including labeling in their project specifications.
General 606-B Labeling Guidelines
On the labeling side, the ANSI/TIA 606-B standard calls for text on the labels to be machine-generated and visible, and for cables and pathways to be labeled at both ends for ease of tracing from either direction. In addition, the labels should meet the UL969 specification for legibility, defacement and adhesion. This means they should be rugged, tamper-resistant and smear-resistant, and be able to withstand environmental conditions such as heat, moisture and ultraviolet light. And they should have a design life equal to or greater than that of the labeled components.
On the administration side, the 606-B Standard states that the facility owner or IT staff must ensure the cable and component identification system be updated to reflect future upgrades and MACs that will inevitably occur, and that they maintain a permanent record of the original installation and subsequent changes. A complete, up-to-date record of the physical infrastructure provides all parties with an accurate blueprint to follow should the configuration need to be re-created, in whole or in part, because of damage or destruction from fire, flood, earthquake or other disaster.
To facilitate compliance with the 606-B standard and make the labeling job easier, installation firms can find industrial-grade labeling tools. The best of these labeling systems incorporate smart technology, intuitive navigation, broad versatility and deep functionality to help make identification and labeling quick and easy.
Handheld labeling tools designed for on-site use are easy to operate and ergonomically designed to fit the hand comfortably without strain. They are reliable and ruggedly constructed to withstand heavy day-to-day use by work crews in the field. Today's thermal printers are a popular choice because they don't use ink, and they can format and print a variety of conforming label types up to 24mm or 36mm wide using easy snap-in tape cartridges. The tapes generate durable UL-approved polyester laminated labels, which encapsulate the print between two protective layers to ensure long-term integrity, legibility and adhesion. This complies with the 606-B standard for label design longevity.
Some smart labeling tools offer a selection of wireless connectivity options and built-in software that allow users to download and store data from common databases. They also allow for on-site download and printing of previously saved custom or pre-formatted label templates, as well as previously programmed alpha/numeric serialization of labels. These capabilities can dramatically increase labeling speed and productivity in the field.
What to Look for in a Labeling Solution
In selecting handheld industrial labelers for installation work crews, here are some additional features that can add value by increasing efficiency and productivity on the job:
- Large backlit LCD display provides high visibility in worksites for an at-a-glance view of label designs. Enhances the ability to preview and edit labels prior to printing.
- QWERTY-style keyboard with clearly marked buttons and easy-to-follow navigation menus allow faster formatting and editing of labels with just a few keystrokes.
- Automatic smart font-sizing results in clear, readable labels that conform to short and long identifier formats, so users can quickly make labels suitable for cables, fiber, wires, faceplates, patch panels, punch blocks, control panels and more.
- Faster printing speeds increase efficiency and productivity so workers can accomplish more during a shift.
- PC connectivity and built-in software and memory allow users to download and store data to create custom designed labels, in addition to using the pre-formatted label templates provided with the smart labeler.
- A multi-lingual user interface can help make the smart labeler more user-friendly for diverse work crews.
In addition, the smart labeler should be able to accept a variety of interchangeable tape cartridges to create different types of labels. The most common choices are HGe and TZe tapes, which come in a variety of sizes, colors and adhesive backings. Some installers also opt to use HSe heat shrink tubing, a thin flexible tube that contracts when it is heated with a heat gun. When applied to an individual cable or bundle of wires, fibers or cables, the HSe tubing forms a strong, secure sleeve that provides insulation, strength and strain relief to prevent flexing or crimpling at the wire-to-termination point. Some newer labeling tools make printing on heat shrink tubing fast, easy and economical.
The Professional Way to Label
While asset management and labeling are only part of a successful structured cabling or data center installation, they play an important role in ensuring maximum uptime and audit compliance, as well as the long-term performance, security and reliability of the building's communications infrastructure.
The days of using tape and markers to label network components are long gone, and so are the days of "on-the-fly" cable management and administration. The relatively low cost and customized high performance of today's handheld industrial-grade labeling tools make them well worth the investment. So whether you are installing a new datacom or security system, upgrading a LAN, or modifying an existing facility, it's important to follow the labeling guidelines established by the 606-B standard. And using a next-generation handheld industrial labeling tool to print rugged, long-last labels is the professional way to go.
About the Author: Craig Robinson manages growth strategy, 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.