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Careers in cable manufacturing technology will continue to grow for the foreseeable future. Electrical cable manufacturing is a multi-stage process starting with the initial conceptual design, the computer aided design (CAD), the actual production of the wires in a factory, and the installation of cables by certified technicians.
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Initial Conceptual Design Engineers
This is the area where new cable systems are devised and implemented. A product engineer will often consult with customers to find out what is and isn’t working with their current cable system. The entire job of the product engineer is to improve the quality of the product that is being produced. This could mean finding ways to eliminate voltage loss in long cable systems, scaling the cables to fit in smaller spaces and use fewer raw materials, or even improving the aesthetic appearance of the cable. Product engineers are often found working in wire drawing and stranding, PVC compounding, laying up, and armoring, extrusion, and copper tape screening and rewinding departments. To become a product engineer a bachelor’s degree in engineering is required, but it is well worth it with an average salary of $87,000 reported by Indeed.com for 2010.
Manufacturing engineers take the suggestions from the product engineer and work to implement them in a factory. They design new machinery to produce the newly designed cables and work to improve the existing manufacturing systems to make them safer and more efficient. A manufacturing engineer’s goal is to lower production costs on a factory wide level while maintaining a quality product. This job also requires a bachelor’s degree in engineering with an average salary of $75,100 as of January 2010 according to PayScale.com.
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Computer Aided Design and Manufacturing Engineers
Before a new concept can be put into place, a CAD engineer has to program the computers to fulfill the technical aspects of the build. These design engineers look at the input from both the product engineer and manufacturing engineer and take the concept from the ether and put it down in concrete numbers and designs. A CAD designer has a bachelor’s degree in computer-aided design and can expect an average salary around $70,000 - $100,000 depending on specialty.
Sometimes CAD work falls into the area of a manufacturing technologist where in addition to computer related design, actual physical work measurements and data collecting may be required to develop new manufacturing and processing procedures. A manufacturing technician can usually get an entry level position with a vocational or associate’s degree, but a bachelor’s degree will improve starting wages. The average salary of manufacturing technicians is in the ballpark of $45,000 – $56,000 depending on the complexity of the equipment that is in use and the technical skill needed to keep it in running condition.
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A cable manufacturing facility requires skilled labor to operate the machinery involved in the actual production of the cables. Entry-level machine operators are often brought in to run equipment including extrusion systems, cablers, twinners, bunchers, cord twisters, irradiators, and braiders, while more experienced workers are brought in to handle utilities. Utility technicians must have a current boiler certification and have experience with building safety systems including fire control equipment and heater and boiler systems.
Extrusion Systems – Extrusion equipment bonds plastic coating to the metal components of the cable. This can be done as a straight extrusion where the plastic bonds directly to the cable or in a jacketing process where the individual strands of wires are sealed separately.
Cablers – Cabling equipment twists two or more conductor pairs into a cable bundle.
Twinners – Twinning machines complete a junction of two sets of jacketed wires. This process is very common in household appliances but not regularly used in industrial applications.
Bunchers – Bunchers tape individual jacketed wires together and add an EMI/RFI shield to the conductor groupings.
Cord Twisters – Cord Twisters twist two conductors together to cancel out electromagnetic interference from unshielded sources. The tighter the twist is the more effective the cancelation but the shorter the effective length of the cable.
Irradiators – An Irradiation operator uses high-energy electric pulses to crosslink the plastic molecules used in the jacketing process to improve temperature resistance, increase tensile strength, and give better solvent and cut through resistance.
Braiders -- Braiders apply a shield of copper wires over the sheathing of the cables to prevent energy loss and increase data security.
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If something goes wrong on the manufacturing floor, an electrical technician is responsible for getting it up and running again. An electrical engineer usually has either a vocational degree or a bachelor’s in electrical engineering. This position is different from the manufacturing technician because the electrical engineer works directly on the manufacturing floor and deals with individual issues in confined areas of the building whereas the manufacturing technician deals with site-wide large-scale issues.
Another critical production level position is that of quality control technician. In general, these positions require prior knowledge in an actual cable-manufacturing environment as well as a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. The quality control technician is responsible for understanding all current industry standards for testing methods and current minimum specifications. Doing this particular job will include running cable fault analysis, doing client inspections and running acceptance tests. The average pay for this position as of January 2010 was $69,300 according to Payscale.com.
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Cable installation technicians work in all fields that require energy or data transfer cabling in the infrastructure. Some of these areas are phone systems, computer networks, security and alarm systems and, on the large scale, electrical energy transmission. These technicians often are engaged in the business of determining locations for network hardware, participating in the installation of routers and switches on computer systems, identifying and troubleshooting transfer problems including sources of interference, repairing and/or replacing network cabling, and performing safety tests on currently installed systems.
These positions require a two-year vocational degree, at minimum, and depending on the complexity of the installation may require advanced degrees in electrical engineering or network installation. The average salary has a large range depending on whether the job is in the private sector or with the federal government. It starts at $60,000 and can easily eclipse $100,000 if the installer is dealing with dangerous situations like underwater or other specialized difficult terrain installation.
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With all of the available careers in cable manufacturing technology and the continued growing need for more data and energy transfer systems, this is a solid career choice for a budding engineer. Average salaries for most of these positions put them firmly in the middle to upper middle class of America making the educational investment well worth the time and effort.
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College of DuPage; maufacturing Technology; Jim Filipek, http://www.cod.edu/academic/acadprog/occ_voc/MfgOcc.htm
Berkshire Electric Cable Company; The Manufacturing Process; http://berkshireelectriccableco.com/insulated.html
Image of Electrical Cable Cross Section courtesy of Tom Raftery @ FlickR, http://www.flickr.com/photos/traftery/1484457018/sizes/m/in/photostream/