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The Innovation Game – Ellis Bespoke Cable Cleats

Richard ShawAt first glance, the cable cleat may not seem like a product ripe for design innovation; its role securing electrical cables in the event of a short circuit seemingly straightforward enough to preclude it from such activity. But look more closely and you’ll quickly realise you are wrong.

Ellis MD, Richard Shaw talks about how the company has evolved from being a manufacturer of traditional, standard cable cleats to a market leading innovator, solving installation and safety issues for the likes of Siemens, Network Rail and Balfour Beatty.

“For a long time we banged the drum about the importance of correctly specified cable cleats. The key fact being that without correct specification all a cable cleat will do is add to the potentially life-threatening shrapnel during a short circuit situation.

Our drumming these days is significantly quieter. The market is now well aware of the need for cleats and as a result it has become increasingly congested, with more manufacturers than ever making them and, in some cases, producing virtual replicas of the most popular.

As we’ve done ever since I joined the business we’ve responded to these changing market conditions by subtly shifting our focus. Back then export was something we really only dabbled in. Today it accounts for over 50 per cent of our annual turnover and sees us export to more than 35 different countries through a network of local distributors.

Our latest change hasn’t though been focused on where we sell, but rather what and how we sell – a change that was born out of a growing demand for project specific solutions.

Initially this was confined to bespoke cable cleats being designed and manufactured to exact client specifications and short-circuit tested to exact project conditions. This now has developed to a stage where we are called in, presented with a problem and asked to solve it.

Amrumbank WestThe first time this occurred was in 2014, when Siemens called us in to discuss how we could help with the installation and subsequent restraint of seven large diameter high voltage (HV) cables on HelWin 2 – a 690MW offshore HVDC platform that would provide low-loss transmission between the North Sea offshore wind farm, Amrumbank West and Germany’s onshore grid.

The end result was our Cable Guide Clamp – an innovative product that first acts as a guide for the large HV cables, before being transformed into a fully-functioning HV cable clamp.

At that time, delivering the Cable Guide Clamp was a huge achievement for us, but now, just three years down the line, that kind work is a regular occurrence.

Severn Tunnel bracket instaThis year alone we’ve designed, manufactured and helped install brand new cable cleat solutions for both the Severn Tunnel and the New Wear Crossing. The latter of these installations saw us called in by Balfour Beatty after its initial plan to secure cables running the entire length of the new bridge proved unworkable. Our response incorporated 252 specially designed assemblies, each comprising 12 standard 2F+172 clamps and a stainless steel support frame.

Our ability to deliver such products has been significantly enhanced by developing manufacturing technology and a recruitment focus that has seen both the skillsets and size of our product design team expand. Today we are able to do the design; guarantee a new product’s performance characteristics through a combination of finite element analysis, 3D printing and physical testing; produce tooling and then manufacture the product. All of which can done with a lead-time that can be measured in weeks rather than months, and at cost that is not just affordable, but comparable to any viable off-the-shelf solution.

no bolt cleatsThe extent of our drive to become the industry innovator can be encapsulated by just one product – the Ellis No Bolts cleat, which was developed in response to a major safety concern raised by Network Rail through our UK distributor, ETS Cable Components.

The Network Rail problem was to do with outer sheaths of live cables being breached during the installation of new cable runs onto existing cleating infrastructure. The nub of the problem was that in order to accommodate new cable, and by extension new cleats, existing clamps had to be dismantled, and longer bolts fed through to allow for the stacking of new clamps. The existing live cable then had to be put back into the old clamps, and it was during this stage of the process that the long bolts were snagging the cable and allowing current to track into the containment system. This resulted in a number of earth faults and at least one engineer receiving a major electric shock.

With the intention of resolving the issue we designed a stackable product, which meant additional cable runs could be added quickly, easily and without any need to disturb existing live cables.

We didn’t though stop with solving just one problem. Instead our design team sought to deliver a new product that would deliver the best possible commercial solution for this kind of installation.

As the name suggests, the Ellis No Bolts cleat has no bolts. Instead it is fastened with two keepers that lock into the top clamp and secure it into position within the base clamp – a process that is tool as well as bolt free. The stackable nature of the cleats is made possible by a recess in the top moulding, and a twist fit foot on the base moulding, which lock together with a simple quarter turn hand operation.

Cleats across the WearAnd design innovation didn’t stop with the cleat’s mechanics. The chosen manufacturing material is a high strength nylon specifically formulated to have sufficient low smoke properties to meet London Underground 1-085 specification. And because of the non-metallic design, the cleat is impervious to the bi-metallic corrosion that causes problems in any number of harsh environments. The crowning glory of the whole process was the Ellis No Bolts cleat became the first cable cleat to be granted Network Rail’s very own PADs approval.

Looking forward I’m certain the rest of industry will once again begin to catch us up, meaning bespoke product innovations and problem solving solutions will no longer be the sole domain of industry trendsetters like Ellis, but very much a must-have service for all. And, of course, with developing technology, most notably advances in 3D printing, in-house manufacturing will become easier. All of which means we are already planning our next move in the on-going battle to stay a few steps ahead of the competition.”

 
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