CAMO set to halt copper cable theft

CAMO set to halt copper cable theft

IN the month of June alone copper theft cost South Africa R11.1m, according to the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s (SACCI) copper theft barometer.

While the barometer reflects a marginal downwards trend in levels for the year, the theft of copper is costing South Africa tens if not hundreds of millions of rands each year. This amount reflects replacement and labour costs, as well as revenue loss due to electrical outages, the danger posed to humans by ungrounded power systems and security costs such as surveillance cameras etc. are however not that easy to quantify.

The South African Police Service is stepping up the training of its officers combatting copper theft on the ground and there have been a variety of anti-theft products on the market, yet none of these offered a comprehensive long-term solution. The re-sale value of copper as scrap metal remains the biggest issue, and while financial incentives remain copper cabling will always be a theft-risk.

ARB Holdings aims to change that with the local launch of Fushi Copperweld’s Coloured Anti-theft Metallic Oxide (CAMO) ground wire. A product that has the appearance of galvanised steel, yet it features a steel core clad in highly conductive copper. While the copper layer ensures reliable conductivity it is also impossible to separate the copper from the steel core, making the wire virtually worthless to cable thieves without sacrificing performance. 

“For the first time there is a truly viable product available, able to turn the tide on cable theft in South Africa,” says Clinton Cockerell, cable director for ARB. The ARB Group is the exclusive stockist and distributor of Fushi Copperweld bimetallic products, including CAMO, throughout the SADC region. 

The reason for Cockerell’s confidence is four fold: 

$1o   CAMO does not look like copper. Fushi Copperweld has developed a process of permanently changing the colour of the shiny outer copper layer to a dull, dark grey, without affecting conductivity or connectivity. This means that CAMO looks like low-cost galvanized steel.

$1o   CAMO is magnetic. Most thieves test whether a wire is copper by running a magnet over it, as steel is magnetic while copper is not. This adds to the illusion that they are encountering low-cost steel.

$1o   CAMO is hard to cut, unlike soft, pliable copper.

$1o   CAMO has virtually no scrap value. Should thieves steal the cable anyway, they will soon find out that the re-sale value of CAMO is hardly worth the effort. The scientifically verified metallurgical bond found in CAMO means the copper can’t be separated from the steel and because the cheap steel taints the valuable copper, it has virtually no scrap value. 

Cockerell points out that copper cable theft has become such a problem locally that utilities are going to extreme and costly lengths to protect their copper wire stock. “Scrap dealers also rarely question the source of the material and recovered copper is usually untraceable, because material is seldom marked. We truly believe that CAMO offers a long term solution to the issue of copper cable theft, and in many ways CAMO is even the technically superior product.”

When comparing copper cabling and CAMO, the differences are clear. Copper has poor tensile strength and often requires upsizing to meet tensile requirements; it is also typically toughened for flexibility. CAMO on the other hand offers high break load ratings, excellent tensile strength and ample capacity for fault current safety margins at comparable sizes, as well as containing superb fatigue properties. The product also provides outstanding corrosion properties and is 7 – 9% lighter than copper, while offering the same connections, coatings and insulations as copper. 

Cockerell explains how the integrity of the cladding process is maintained throughout manufacturing. “The product is kept in a solid state and never electroplated, which ensures a wire that is without chips, cracks or voids,” he says.

During manufacturing the ratio of the copper thickness to the overall diameter are also maintained, even at fine gauges. A verified metallurgical bond is further established between the steel and copper through atomic inter-diffusion at the interface of the two metals.

Copperweld pioneered bimetallic technology by manufacturing the first Copper Clad Steel (CCS) in 1915. It has been used by utilities as earthing wire in the USA since the 1950’s and today Fushi Copperweld is the world’s leading manufacturer and the only producer of Copperweld CCS and Copperweld CAMO.

Copperweld pioneered bimetallic technology by manufacturing the first Copper Clad Steel (CCS) in 1915. It has been used by utilities as earthing wire in the USA since the 1950’s and today Fushi Copperweld is the world’s leading brand and the only producer of Copperweld CCS.

In terms of electrical cabling, a single wire is most applicable for use as pole grounding while a 7-wire strand is mostly used for substation grounding. Cockerell says a stranded cable is more flexible than a single wire of the same total cross-sectional area, thus strand is used whenever ease of bending or repeated bending is required. CAMO’s stranded copper clad steel cable is composed of individual wires of the same size, concentrically stranded in one or more layers and the standard configurations include a 3-wire, 7-wire, 19-wire and 37-wire strand. The product is available in a low-carbon steel grade with dead-soft annealed (DSA) tempering.

Cockerell explains that “lay” is the lateral direction in which the individual wires of the outer layer of the strand run over the top of the strand, as they recede from an observer looking along the strand’s axis. He adds that CAMO mostly furnishes left-hand lay strand. “All wires in the strand lie naturally in their true positions in the completed strand and remain in position when the strand is cut at any point,” he says. “Stringent quality controls and testing (including twist tests and tensile breakage tests) assure that CAMO’s bimetallic strand will meet or surpass technical expectations.”  

 “Here is a product that has been treated to look like galvanised steel, is magnetised and difficult to cut, creating the illusion of low-cost steel. In terms of conductivity it is on par with copper and even produces better tensile strength and sufficient current capacity,” elaborates Cockerell. “It really is an excellent alternative to copper and bound to curb the copper cable theft that is plaguing our country.”

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