Choosing the right lubricant


Brett Smyth, General Manager of Ideal Industries EMEA, the global leader in electrical accessories, tools and equipment, discusses the importance of selecting the correct lube for conduit installations.


Like any other sector, the electrical industry evolves to adopt new trends and working practices on a continuous basis. A wide array of factors influence those trends, including regulatory change, cultural shifts and new products coming onto the market to aid safety, speed of installation and cost reduction.One of the trends that has been very evident in the UK market recently is an increased use of conduit in electrical installations. There has been no ground-breaking innovation in the world of conduit design or fabrication and it isn’t new to the UK electrical industry; indeed, conduit has been common in industrial settings and exterior installations since we first started to connect plugs to sockets. What’s changed is the amount of conduit used to protect cables in interior commercial and domestic properties.


The Move Towards Conduit


Increased use of conduit brings the UK into line with common electrical sector working practices in other countries, such as the USA, for example, where conduit is a fairly standard element of any electrical network installation. In the UK, where we benefit from some of the strictest quality and safety standards across all construction disciplines, the need for conduit has been avoided due to the straight, linear runs typical of wiring installations, which make it easy to predict the route of electric cables from the location of sockets and light fittings.  Most electricians (and their customers) would be horrified to see the haphazard installation of electrical networks in countries where compliance is less rigorous. However, as the safety of electrical installations has become an increasingly central element of installation best practice, the added protection provided by conduit has led to more widespread use, particularly in retrofit installations.


According to current wiring regulations, where a cable is concealed in a wall or partition at depth of less than 50mm it must be enclosed in earthed metal conduit (trunking or ducting) or installed either horizontally within 150mm of the top of the wall or vertically to the wiring accessory or consumer unit. For retrofit installations in particular, therefore, use of conduit can enable less invasive installations and greater flexibility for the location of cables.


From both a safety and service life perspective, the increased use of conduit for UK electrical installations is good news. The more challenging element of this evolving trend, however, is the need to protect the electrical cables as they are pulled through the conduit during installation. Because the UK electrical sector has traditionally used less conduit, electricians are also less familiar with electrical lube and how to select a lubricant with the right performance and properties for their installation.


Why is Lube Necessary?


Regardless of the type of cable or conduit used, or whether the installation is in a commercial or domestic, or an interior or exterior setting, cabling is vulnerable to damage as it is pulled through the conduit unless a suitable lubricant is used. When installing cables in conduit, therefore, lube is an essential part of any electrician’s toolkit. And, just like every other tool or component used on an installation, the quality of the lube chosen can affect speed and ease of installation, safety and long-term performance.


The main purpose of an electrical lube is to help the cable slide easily through the conduit to avoid friction and snagging. Often conduit is congested with multiple cables, it may be extended in length and include awkward bends and angles, all of which are potential causes of friction and difficulty in pulling the cable. Use of a suitable lubricant makes pulling the cable easier for the electrician with a lower risk of damage to the cable during installation.It’s not unusual for electricians to improvise by using non-specialist products, such as washing-liquid for example, to provide the slippyness of a lubricant, which can make it easier to manoeuvre the cable through the conduit. However, generic products like this are not designed to reduce friction and snagging and have not been tested for use with electrical cables, so should not be used because they may not offer the protection and compatibility required.


What to Look for in an Electrical Lube


The most fundamental property of any electrical lubricant is that it must be benign when in contact with the jacket material of the cable so that it not only protects the cable from friction or snagging but also prevents any loss of integrity for the jacket that protects the wire. As a wide range of jacket materials are used in cable manufacture, checking that the chosen lubricant is certified for use on the specific cable being installed is essential. All Ideal Industries lubricants have been independently tested to IEEE 1210 (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers ) & UL standards and are clearly labelled to enable electricians to verify compatibility. They are also pH neutral, environmentally-safe, non-toxic, non-flammable and non-corrosive; all properties that electricians should look for when selecting a lubricant to ensure the installation is safe and avoid any long-term damage to the cable or the conduit from the lubricant.


The “clingability” of the lubricant is also essential as this determines how well the lubricant performs throughout the pull. This is particularly important for longer and more complex runs. For example, Ideal Industries’ Yellow 77 Lube, which is most commonly used for industrial and commercial installations, has enhanced clingability to provide improved performance in tougher environments.


Ideal Yellow 77 also has the lowest co-efficient of friction of any lubricant in the Ideal Industries lube range, which is another key indicator of performance. The lower the co-efficient of friction the more protected the cable will be all the way through the pull, so electricians installing cables in extended conduit networks should select the lowest co-efficient of friction available. 


Temperature stability is also important because performance of the lube could be affected if it is installed outside the recommended temperature range. For Ideal Yellow 77, which is often used for industrial and power sector installations, the temperature range is 0 degree C – 54 degrees C, providing sufficient variability for most UK installations. For Ideal Industries Aqua-Gel lubes, a polymer-based lube alternative to wax for exterior installations, the temperature range is even greater at -0 degree C – 82 degrees C.


The temperature range for Ideal Industries’ Clearglide lube, which is usually recommended for residential, office, data comms and retrofit installations, is 0 degree C – 82 degrees C. For these environments, ease of application and clean-up are also important considerations to prevent damage to interior finishes. The Clearglide bottle is designed to allow the lubricant to be dispensed straight into the conduit to prevent spills and the product has been formulated with added perfume to prevent chemical odours in interior spaces.


Quality Counts


As with all electrical consumables, when it comes to selecting a lubricant, quality counts, so lubes should never been seen as a generic, commodity item. Selecting the right lubricant from a trusted manufacturer with an established range and quality assured in-house production is the only way to ensure the product offers the performance, safety and protection needed for the specific installation challenges and environment.


If you require any further information or assistance, please contact IDEAL on +44 (0)1925 444 446 or contact IDEAL via email: