Half a croissant, on a plate, with a sign in front of it saying '50c'
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Wire striping dispenser

Dispense wires with selectable color-coded stripes
  [vote for,

When working on large wiring projects, having wires color-coded can make things much easier. Unfortunately, while custom striping is available for those using a large quantity of each color, it's not available for projects requiring 100 feet or less of each color.

I would suggest a machine which takes a spool of white wire and uses markers, chalk, colored pencils, or other similar device to mark wire as it is drawn out. An inexpensive version of this device would allow the user to rotate some wheels with multiple markers on them to choose a pattern of colored stripes; drawing the wire out would mark it in the selected fashion.

A more deluxe version could be digitally-controlled; the user punches in the number of wires desired, the length, and the coloration and the machine automatically imparts the desired marks. If desired, a super-deluxe version could also strip the wires to a desired length or crimp strip-fed connectors, though most users who go through enough wire to justify those features would probably have a good enough relationship with a wire vendor to simply order the colors they want.

If one is using a digitally-controlled coloring device which could apply long and short "dashes", five colors would be enough to "safely" distinguish over 200 different cables (by "safely", I mean that missing colors could not cause a cable to be mistaken for a different one).

If every cable has long and short dashes, there would be 100 color combinations using two of five colors for the long dash and two of five (same or different) for the short. Additionally, 50 color combinations would have one color on the long dash and three on the short, and another 50 would have three on the long and one on the short.

If 200 different markings aren't enough, another 105 could be added if wires were marked with two sets of equally-short dashes (55 would have two of five colors on each dash; the other 50 would have one of five and three of five).

BTW, note that in all 305 color patterns, there are exactly four colored stripes; if any color is missing, the resulting wire would not have four stripes and could thus not be mistaken for any other wire in the four-stripe set.

In the event that 305 marks weren't enough and one didn't want to complicate the dashing patterns any more, adding another pen would increase the number of options greatly. Using long-short markings, double 3 of 6 would yield 400 possibilities, long-4 short-2 and long-2 short-4 would yield 225 each, and long-5 short-1 and long-1 short-5 would yield 25 each; 1000 so far. The double-short patterns would add 210 double-3's, 225 two-fours, and 25 one-fives, for another 460, yielding 1460 different combinations.

If there's a need for more than 1460 color codes, more complicated dashing patterns could be used. If one doesn't mind the extra effort required to recognize a three-layer code (the above were all two-layer), a five-pen machine could distinguish over 1000 codes even if all dashes were the same length, while a six-pen machine could do over 5000. If the dashes weren't all the same length, the 5-pen machine could do over 2000 codes and the six-pen machine could do tens of thousands.

Cool concepts?

supercat, Feb 15 2002


       Cables can also be identified by putting those little numbered sleeves on the ends. Cable number 497 gets a 4, a 9 and a 7. No need to have anything specially made, no minimum order issue, no limit to the number of cables. The major difference is that these don't identify the middle of a cable, but then again, how often would they need to?
Having said all of which, croissant because it's a nice idea.
angel, Feb 15 2002

       Neat idea. The main benefit would be not having to stock 200 types of wire. It could even be useful for dispensing 6 solid colors of wire from 1 spool.   

       I prefer end tags usually, no need for a key.
tolly3, Feb 15 2002

       End tags can be nice, and could make a good supplement, but if there are a bunch of wires in a connector it can be difficult to read the end tags without removing the wires. And sometimes there is a need to identify the middle of a wire, for example, if one needs to splice a group of wires either because they got cut accidentally or because it's necessary to add a connector.
supercat, Feb 15 2002

       This sounds like a great idea for short-term marking of wires, but I think our dye/paint technology needs to develop a bit more before we can expect consumer-applied markings to survive the long haul. I say that because I have seen the color degradation of markings on old cable. When you have 3 colors that have faded/bleached to the same shade of gray-brown, and 10% of your 200 wires use one of those colors, you have a nightmare waiting to happen.   

       Actually though, I have found that multi-pair telephone cable is quite a handy way to purchase reasonable lengths of wires with different markings. I can strip the outer jacket and unwind individual wires, or leave them bundled and just break out the ends. Eight unique markings in complemented pairs (blue with white stripe and white with blue stripe, for example). If I need more, I can get 25-pair telephone cable with 50 unique markings, but that's harder to find in retail. I guess it helps to have a friend in the telecom industry who can salvage scraps of telephone cable for you.
BigBrother, Feb 15 2002

       Your concern about fading is quite reasonable. I would hope, though, that it would be possible to find five or six suitably durable colors. If the dispenser could use long and short dashes (which shouldn't be too hard) it wouldn't take too many colors to get many combinations.
supercat, Feb 16 2002

       Baked, in one way or another. The electrical industry seems to prefer numbering. Wire numbering is more easily managed using Excel or AutoCAD, and can be printed on a single color wiring diagram. Wire numbers can be printed in True-Type fonts on heat-shrinkable sleeving (cut to length by the printer, or precut on a cardboard strip carrier). Manufacturers include Kroy, Brady.
For large volumes, machines do exist that function pretty much as described (not sure about the coloring aspect, however). For low volumes, the PC attached printer method seems to be the most cost effective.
Here's a quick tip: if you have to fish a number of similar colored wires through a conduit, but you have no wire-marking technology handy, use your stripper/cutter to lightly cut roman numerals into the insulation of the wire. Just remember to always hold the wire in the same direction when reading, or to only cut into one side of the insulation (you don't want to read the mirror image by accident). Cut the numbered part off before terminating the wire. Number the wires later when markers become available (sure, right, whatever).
xrayTed, Feb 16 2002

       steve: barcodes are generally not human readable. Labels aren't bad, though they can be nuisancesome to try to read in awkward enclosures. The notion behind my idea is that a person would be able to look at a wire and easily identify that it as red-green long; blue-green short and then look it up in the diagram (which could have wires labeled by color name/letter. The above wire, for example, could be labeled in the diagram as RG/BG).
supercat, Feb 17 2002

       I've come up with pretty much the first part of this idea, but didn't end up posting it. (Too likely to actutally be developed - of course this then never happened, since we were too busy wiring up the place.) It would have been a c-shaped open ring around the wire that normal markers screw into and are gently pushed against the wire and each other. Very low-tech, probably costs less than a dollar to make.   

       I don't go for the whole computer/high tech/dash-dot thing; I don't think it solves a big problem. The one I want to solve is telling wires in the same conduit apart, which is more like, don't know, 4 or so. For the rest, preprinted flags work fine.   

       What helped us in practice was purchasing different colors of wire from the local store and pulling one of the white, grey, light blue, and dark blue at once.
jutta, Feb 17 2002

       to defuse the mechanism, cut the red one, Peter, the RED one.
po, Feb 17 2002

       Do you all suppose that a dispenser which cuts little grooves into the insulation as the wire is dispensed would compromise the insulation? One groove, two grooves, three grooves, more . . . ?  That way you could tell the cables apart just by feeling them.   

       Maybe if the cable suppliers made cable with an extra layer of insulation designed to accept the grooves?   

       <afterthought:> Perhaps variations could be made by having some grooves continuous and others dashed distinctly enough to be discerned by touch.
bristolz, Feb 17 2002

       thats a bit dodgy, bris. Glad you don't do my wiring!
po, Feb 17 2002

       *I'm* dodgy, po.   It is to be expected that my ideas are as well.
bristolz, Feb 17 2002

       I would trust you with my babies but not my wiring BTW get Peter to cut the RED one!
po, Feb 17 2002

       A marker could just stamp on braille -- that would give all the guys screwing conduit due to color blindness something else to do.
reensure, Feb 17 2002

       serves you right! PS
po, Feb 17 2002

       [UnaBubba]: What to do when the wire diameter is very small? Think phone wire vs. power mains.
BigBrother, Feb 18 2002

       [UnaBubba]: the insulation on a wire has a voltage rating. This rating is derived from the thickness, dielectric strength, long-term durabilty, and probably other things. Heating, and creating an impression in the insulation would probably defeat this rating.
xrayTed, Feb 18 2002

       Then alter it so it won't defeat the rating.
bristolz, Apr 27 2002

       Sound like electrition with to mutch free time.Can always use tracer.
cabler, Apr 27 2003

       I think it's a great idea.. we should aply it to more fields, like car ID, or smth. just paint whatever you want into a nice color-code, and let go to the more simple, clean methods like using number ID-s. the future is color !!
sweet, Jan 21 2004

       Just tag a number to the damn wire! Color coding or striping a wire is way too complex for wire pulling monkeys like myself. Sorry... fishbone.
renegademonk, Jan 30 2004

       Makes me wonder what the hell supercat was wiring when he came up with this...probably some funktastic control circuits in some factory.   

       I get the feeling s/he was in the thirteenth or fourteenth hour of the day when this one popped into mind, too...   

       If you can't make it work with ten colors (excluding IG and tracered neutrals), you're in the wrong field, homes. Bones.
otmShank, Jun 19 2004

       Just thought of more high-tech version of this for wire striping. I work at what is quite possibly the only remianing electrical shop in the developed world to use wire colours exclusively, unless a customer asks us for Brady labels, in which case we grumble and fret excessively about how we can't tell the wires apart until we put the tags on.   

       I'm not sure that any of your proposed stripe media would work, and a lot of the ambiguity can be resolved by offering all possible base colours without resorting to Morse, but [+] anyway for getting there first.
gisho, Jun 04 2010

       The generic (AT&T) standard for paired telephony cables does pretty well.
8th of 7, Jun 04 2010

       //The generic (AT&T) standard for paired telephony cables does pretty well.//   

       If one needs precisely 50 colors of wire, and will be continuously using the same amount of each, ripping apart 25-pair cable may be good. But how often is that really the case.   

       As for end tags, they're good for some situations, but as I noted, they are of little help if one needs to find out which wire is which in the middle of a harness. Suppose a machine is all wired up and it's discovered that the console needs to be movable. Or suppose a harness gets snagged on something and a few wires get cut and have to be repaired. Trying to track down which wire is which can be a time-consuming operation. Having the wires marked along their length would make things easier.   

       As for having more colors versus having more complex dot/dash patterns, I would expect that maintaining a smaller number of inks and having a processor-controlled marker would be easier than having to handle more colors of ink. I suppose one could use a very thin stripe of colored tape or something, but I don't know if that would make it harder to strip the wire.   

       I will say, though, that I thought of another idea: a dispenser to make it convenient to twist or braid small groups of wires. If things like switches are wired with individual return wires, and if each signal wire is tightly twisted with its return, one wouldn't need to have separate colors for every switch; if all wires were paired, ten wire colors would allow for 45 pairs of distinguishable wires. If the dispenser could include one or two electrically-inert threads, that would allow for even more color possibilities.
supercat, Jun 10 2010

       I like the clockwork version of this in which the turning master spool turns the wheel that holds the marker. The marker wheel has many circumferential holes, each of which can hold a marker. My version would have only 2 markers: fat and thin, both black. Perhaps a third marker which did not mark and would serve as a placeholder. These would correspond with the dash and dot (and pause) of Morse code. One could encode wire with a Morse letter, two letters, or a number of letters limited only by the diameter of the marker wheel.
bungston, Jun 11 2010


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