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Compact rival to cable drums has a novel twist

10 June, 2013

The energy chain specialist igus has come up with a novel, space-saving way to pay out and rewind working cables, tubing and other media over distances of up to 14m, without needing sliprings.

The system, called e-spool, is a combination of two existing igus technologies – a standard energy chain that is stored on a spring-loaded spool, and a product called Twisterband that can turn cables and other supply lines through 3,000 degrees with little wear.

The Twisterband links the spool with a shaft bracket where the moving cables connect to permanently installed cables or other media. Initially, the chain is wound onto the spool which pays it out to the length required for an application. When the chain is released, the adjustable spring reels it back.

As the spool unwinds and rewinds, the Twisterband coils and uncoils. If an application needs a large number of cables or other media, two Twisterbands can be used – one on either side of the spool.

Unlike a standard cable drum, the e-spool does not need a slipring or sliding contacts of any kind, because it provides an end-to-end connection for the cables and other media. Sliprings are prone to wear and need to be repaired or replaced from time to time. Another drawback is that different types of media need different sliprings and no supplier offers sliprings for all media.

At present there are 18 versions of the e-spool, capable of paying out cable lengths from 4–14m. igus is working on longer-stroke versions and on motor-driven spools that could handle heavier loads than the spring-loaded versions.

igus is still discovering potential applications for the e-spool. Initial uses have been on lifting apparatus such as cherry-pickers, hoists, mobile cranes and lighting rigs. The system, which can operate vertically or horizontally, saves space compared to the zig-zag chains typically used in such applications.

“Anywhere where a cable drum has been used previously, the e-spool will work,” says Christian Barthen, igus’ global product manager for e-chains.

Justin Leonard, a director at igus UK, describes the technology as “a game-changer”. It is “a radical departure because it is telescopic and so compact,” he adds.

At present, the e-spools offer a choice of two inner chain widths (80 and 125mm), allowing various media and types of cable (both power and data, in diameters up to 19mm) to be carried on one spool. Users simply press the cables or piping into the chain from the outside without needing to open or close the chain links.

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