In North American practice, an overhead cable from a transformer on a power pole to a residential electrical service usually consists of three twisted (triplexed) conductors, with one being a bare neutral conductor, with the other two being the insulated conductors for both of the two 180 degree out of phase 120 V line voltages normally supplied. The neutral conductor is often a supporting "messenger" steel wire, which is used to support the insulated Line conductors.
Cables for industrial, commercial and apartment buildings may contain many insulated conductors in an overall jacket, with helical tape steel or aluminium armour, or steel wire armour, and perhaps as well an overall PVC or lead jacket for protection from moisture and physical damage. Cables intended for very flexible service or in marine applications may be protected by woven bronze wires. Power or communications cables (e.g., computer networking) that are routed in or through air-handling spaces (plenums) of office buildings are required under the model building code to be either encased in metal conduit, or rated for low flame and smoke production.
Cables usually are secured with special fittings where they enter electrical apparatus; this may be a simple screw clamp for jacketed cables in a dry location, or a polymer-gasketed cable connector that mechanically engages the armour of an armoured cable and provides a water-resistant connection. Special cable fittings may be applied to prevent explosive gases from flowing in the interior of jacketed cables, where the cable passes through areas where flammable gases are present. To prevent loosening of the connections of individual conductors of a cable, cables must be supported near their entrance to devices and at regular intervals along their runs. In tall buildings, special designs are required to support the conductors of vertical runs of cable. Generally, only one cable per fitting is permitted, unless the fitting is rated or listed for multiple cables.
Copper sheathed mineral insulated cables at a panel board. For some industrial uses in steel mills and similar hot environments, no organic material gives satisfactory service. Cables insulated with compressed mica flakes are sometimes used. Another form of high-temperature cable is a mineral insulated cable, with individual conductors placed within a copper tube and the space filled with magnesium oxide powder. The whole assembly is drawn down to smaller sizes, thereby compressing the powder. Such cables have a certified fire resistance rating and are more costly than non-fire rated cable. They have little flexibility and behave more like rigid conduit rather than flexible cables.
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