A gold standard in cable fittings came from an appropriate source: A Canadian gold mine

2017-11-28 - Thomas & Betts, a member of the ABB group, developed the first watertight teck cable fitting in 1953 with gold mining companies in Kirkland Lake, Ontario

Pinpointing the day the gold mines got their start in Kirkland Lake, Ontario, depends on when you want to start looking.

It could have been the day hot magma burbled into the bedrock, forcing molten gold into its seams.

It could have been the day ancient ice sheets ploughed topsoil off the rock, exposing gold seams underneath.

Or it could have been the day William Wright stumbled across a gold-laced quartz bed while he searched for a lost buddy in the woods in 1911.

Any of those could fit. But there is no doubt about the source of a technological breakthrough that made it possible to safely run flexible electrical cables into dangerous, wet places anywhere in the world, whether in the bowels of a Canadian gold mine or in the bones of an industrial plant in Pittsburgh or Brazil.

Thomas & Betts introduced the first watertight teck cable fitting — the 10464 — in 1953, thanks in no small part to the ingenuity of electricians in the Teck-Hughes Gold Mine near Kirkland Lake, Ontario.

The invention stemmed from a basic problem: How do you keep water or other hazardous materials from seeping into the extremities of armored flexible cables?

Flexible cables themselves developed incrementally from the 1930s on as electrical maintenance personnel in the Teck-Hughes Mine sought something better than rigid metal conduit to carry electricity into their expanding tunnels. Flexible cables, which were much easier to install, started with cables wrapped in interlocking metal armor for protection, then evolved to include plastic or rubber coatings to protect the metal armor from corrosion.

Widely known as “teck” cable after the original name of the town of Kirkland Lake, the innovative flexible cabling had one significant problem. Unlike the rigid metal conduit, it was nearly impossible to install a fitting on teck cable that would not leak in wet conditions, leading to shorts or dangerous power failures.

Map showing Kirkland Lake
The 10464 watertight teck fitting solved that problem and launched a worldwide business in the process.

In collaboration with the Teck-Hughes mine, Thomas & Betts engineers developed a fitting with an internal bushing that compresses over the cable jacket as it is installed, sealing it securely from the elements. The 10464 fitting also incorporated an internal tooth-like spear, referred to as the Saber tooth®, that engages with the cable’s metal armor, providing a solid and safe ground path.

The fitting dominated the market for watertight teck cable fittings for 30 years. Then along came William Smith, a young Thomas & Betts product engineer who looked for an even better way.

The original 10464 fitting had to be disassembled before it could be installed, making installations a bit tricky and cumbersome. Smith, a trained mechanical engineer, meticulously surveyed end-user customers across Canada, who by then included not just mines but oil and gas facilities, pulp and paper mills and other industries, to see how they used the fittings and what kinds of improvements were needed.

The result, after two years of development by Thomas & Betts engineers, was the first of today’s extensive line of Star Teck fittings — the Star Teck ST — a “pop-on” one-piece design that requires no disassembly but delivers the same watertight strength and solid grounding bond.

Since the first version was introduced in 1987, the Star Teck line has expanded into multiple products with tens of millions of dollars in sales annually, including range-taking Star Teck Extreme® fittings, Star Teck XP® explosion-proof fittings designed for hazardous, explosive environments, and the Star Teck Extreme XP® line that brings ease of use and range taking to some of the toughest environments on the planet. The latest innovation, the industry-leading Star Teck Extreme Director™, adjusts from 90 to 180 degrees to make secure connections from a field-adjustable range of angles.
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