by Aylza Donald, Graduate Diploma in Archaeology and Heritage Management student
This is the third of four blog posts I am writing for my directed study course this semester. In my first post I wrote about my approach to this project. In my second blog post I discussed some of the reading I was doing, while figuring out how to place cable tie development in a technological, social and political context. This blog post is about some of my data collection challenges and the strategies I’m using to address them. It’s also about my efforts to understand how standards and specifications operate for cable ties, as there is more than one kind of organisation involved in this, and more than one type of classification.
One of the aims of this project is to research contemporary and recent cable tie variations, with Australia as a case study. Another aim is to make a database of cable tie morphology and variation, including specifications, suppliers and manufacturers in Australia. The database will provide a sample of the types of cable ties currently in use and facilitate future research. It will also supplement data from the Flinders archaeology field school at the Orroral Valley NASA Tracking Station, which documents types of cable ties used in this installation between 1965 and 1985 (Gorman 2016:103).
Before starting this project I knew there were many kinds of cable ties in automotive suppliers, marine chandleries and hardware shops. I was prepared to select a range of companies making and /or selling a variety of cable ties to demonstrate what is currently available in Australia. I was aware that documenting all manufacturers and suppliers and all available cable ties would not be possible in one semester: or even in one year. My intention was to categorise some of the key features of the cable ties stocked by the companies I selected, and enter them into a database along with the company details.
Some preliminary investigations into the range of cable ties online, including retail and wholesale suppliers, made me realise I would only be able document a small proportion of what was available. For everyday items that are seemingly so simple, cable ties are actually quite diverse. While it is tempting to think of them as all being the same, they are actually made in different sizes, colours and materials as well as to particular specifications, features, standards and classifications. Further online investigations into companies making and/or selling cable ties in Australia revealed far more businesses than I had imagined, selling more kinds of cable ties than I ever thought possible. On the one hand, this means making strict criteria for my database so I’m not swamped with more data than I can deal with. On the other hand, just having such a huge range is a kind of data in itself. Other contemporary material culture items such as shipping containers have become more standardised in terms of size and shape since the first commercial shipment in the late 1950s (Levinson 2006). Cable ties, which were invented about the same time as the first container shipment, have proliferated into every colour and size imaginable, with variations in materials, types, designs and features.
I carried out a targeted online search to identify companies for my database. In amongst the names of companies making and /or selling cable ties, I found some unexpected results, such as; putting cable ties on bicycle helmets to keep magpies away, stopping people from opening your suitcase when you are travelling, and a stunning cable tie ring (see Figure 1 below). The appearance of the cable tie ring, which can be made in ‘sterling silver, 9ct yellow, white or rose gold or platinum’, reinforced my idea that cable ties are examples of everyday material culture which have iconic status. There is something symbolic about being able to wear a platinum ring modelled on such a humble object.
Figure 1: Cable tie ring – Image courtesy of RPM Jewellery – Australian Made Custom Designs (http://www.rpmjewellery.com.au/shop/home.php)
As well as coming to grips with the database, I’ve been investigating cable tie specifications and standards. ‘All cable ties are not created equal’ and the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), a US based organisation sets technical standards for many products, including cable ties. There are also military specifications and standards for cable ties such as the Aerospace Standard SAE-AS23190C (SAE 2015) set by SAE International, a worldwide association of engineers and technical experts. Other cable tie standards are also available from an independent global safety company called Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL). Some overseas countries have specific standards for cable ties in electrical installations but I have not been able to find any equivalent Australian standards. The Australian and New Zealand Installation and safety requirements for photovoltaic (PV) arrays AS/NZS5033:2014 (Standards Australia 2014), and Electrical installations (known as the Australian/New Zealand Wiring Rules) AS/NZS3000:2007 (Standards Australia 2007), are not free to download, so I haven’t been able to see if they deal specifically with cable ties. I have noticed some companies in my database use the UL standards to indicate the quality of their cable ties, perhaps because it is a global company.
Selecting data for the database has been a challenge. To limit the number of companies I have used fairly strict inclusion criteria. I have also decided to summarise some key details about the cable ties being made and/or sold, and chosen specific cable tie characteristics to focus on. Learning about the different standards and specifications has made choosing these characteristics much easier. I’m categorising the cable ties based on whether or not they meet the requirements of named standards and specifications and identifying which standards and or specifications are being met. Even though marshalling this information sometimes feels like herding cats, I think it is capturing a sample of current cable tie use in Australia which can contribute to future research.
SAE International 2015 SAE Standard AS23190C: Wiring, Positioning, and Support Accessories. SAE International Publications, Warrendale, PA.
Standards Australia 2007 Australian Standard AS/NZS 3000:2007: Electrical installations (known as the Australian/New Zealand Wiring Rules). Standards Australia, Sydney.
Standards Australia 2014 Australian Standard AS/NZS5033 2014: Australian and New Zealand Installation and safety requirements for photovoltaic (PV) arrays. Standards Australia, Sydney.