Cable Ties: Plastic versus Hook and Loop

Published: 16th January 2012
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While plastic cable ties have been around since 1958 and hook and loop ties since the early 90’s, customers for these two different cable ties are still divided into two camps. The decision to purchase a plastic or hook and loop cable tie is influenced by user application considerations, product specifications, performance and price.
History of Cable Ties:
Cable ties are one of the most popular fastening solutions for securing, organizing and routing wires and cables. Cable ties come in both plastic and hook and loop variety.

Cable ties, otherwise known as zip ties, Ty-Raps or wire ties, were invented in 1958 by Thomas & Betts, an electrical company, and were originally intended for use with airplane harnesses. The ties quickly grew in popularity due to their ease of use, wide array of practical applications and low cost. After just a short time, most everyone began to use a zip tie to bundle wires. Initially, cable ties were made from steel and consisted of a two-piece cable and tie solution; first molding the tie and then inserting the metallic pawl to form a single tie. As manufacturing advancements were made, a one-piece, plastic solution became possible.

Plastic Cable Tie Construction:
Plastic ties now include a tip, a strap section and a head. Inside the head there is a tooth otherwise known as a tang. The plastic (or metal) tang engages ridges found along the length of the strap and essentially, keep the tie from opening up. In this manner the tie can be inserted past the tang but it cannot be pulled backward in the opposite direction. A self-locking, one piece tie design creates a finely adjustable and secure hold.

Initially, all plastic cable ties were applied by hand. To use the tie, an individual would follow the simple process of wrapping the tie around the wires, cable or other object, then inserting the tip through the head of the tie and cinching the product to establish a secure hold. Today hand operated and other semi-automated tools are available to assist with rapid tie application. Common users of these semi-automated tools include wire harness manufacturers.

Most plastic ties are now made from nylon 6-6. However, manufacturers of nylon cable ties use different ratios of raw, or virgin, material versus re-grind material to manufacture their ties. Re-grind nylon consists of recycled plastic that is reground into small pellets, melted and then introduced into a plastic injection mold. Re-grind nylon is less expensive than virgin (brand new) raw material. For this reason, re-grind material is used by some manufacturers and to varying degrees to reduce their cost of molding cable ties. Because nylon is hygroscopic (meaning it absorbs and releases moisture during its lifetime), the best quality cable ties are made from little or no re-grind material.

Regardless of whether a percentage of re-grind material is introduced into the material composition or a tie is made from 100% virgin nylon 6-6, the simple fact that cable ties release moisture, means they are susceptible to becoming brittle and snapping. This phenomenon is more common in dry climates, or in environments were HVAC systems remove moisture from the environment like a factory or warehouse. This also explains why ties are more likely to snap during the winter months when the environment in a factory or warehouse is typically drier. Because nylon cable ties can become brittle, snap and break, they perform better in certain environments and care should be taken to keep nylon cable ties sealed and resealed in their original bags until used.

Due to their construction, while the newer plastic cable ties are gentler on wires and cables than their metal-based predecessors, they can be over-cinched or wear through the protective cable jacketing of the wires the ties they are bundling. Semi-automated cable installation tools help to ensure a uniform tensioning and a flush cut-off of extra material. These tools speed up installation time and help reduce the total installation cost required to bundle wires and cables. Care should be taken to ensure the correct type of cable tie is used on certain wires (like CAT-5 and fiber cabling) and that installers do not over-cinch the ties.
Single-use or Reusable ties?
Most installers consider the nylon cable tie a non-reusable fastener. While there are a few nylon cable tie designs marketed by different manufacturers who promote the ties as reusable, in reality the time and method for releasing a reusable plastic tie is tedious or potentially dangerous for some cables. Most often, when installers weigh the cost of the non-reusable tie compared to the time required to remove and reuse these ties, it is often more cost-effective to simply cut them off and use new ties, but there are other options in reusable fasteners. For instance, hook & loop fasteners are easier to reuse than nylon ties.
Benefits of Hook & Loop Ties:
Hook and loop wire ties have grown in popularity because they are gentle on wires and easy to use and reuse. Hook & loop ties are also called hook loop ties, hook and loop straps, or most often velcro cable ties, velcro straps or velcro tie. It should be mentioned that VELCRO® is actually a registered trademark of Velcro Industries B.V., therefore the proper terminology should be “hook and loop” or “hook loop” when referring to these ties. Hook and loop ties are available in a variety of widths, lengths, shapes and colors.

While more expensive than plastic or nylon cable ties, hook and loop cable ties have certain advantages over their counterparts. Hook and loop ties are installed by hand. Because they are soft and flexible they cannot be over-cinched and they are gentle on wires and cables. Hook and loop ties are often used to organize, route and secure wiring by telecom and networking installers in on-premise wiring systems as well as in computer data centers. Hook & loop ties are used in a wide variety of industries and applications including video, entertainment, electronics, music, outdoor and recreation. They are also widely used in a variety of applications in and around the home.

Differences in Hook & loop Tie Construction:
Hook and loop ties are fabricated from hook and loop material(s). Most hook & loop materials are manufactured by marrying hook material to loop material back-to-back, with the use of adhesives. These materials are then cut into a usable shape, such as mimicking the traditional shape of a cable tie, with its head, strap and tip sections. VELCRO® brand ties are made from a different, patented process. VELCRO® brand ONE-WRAP® material (manufactured by Velcro Industries B.V. ) is made without the use of adhesives. Because adhesives are not used to marry ONE-WRAP® hook to the loop, the product will not delaminate over time. Speedwrap® industrial grade hook and loop ties are equivalent to VELCRO® brand ONE-WRAP fasteners, thus the product is ideally suited for commercial applications and sold by leading national manufacturers and distributors.
How To Use A Hook & Loop Cable Tie:
Because hook and loop materials are married back-to-back, the tie can wrap around an object or cables, and overlap onto itself for a secure hold. Hook and loop cable ties often feature a cinch-slot on the head of the strap. For example, the Standard Style Speedwrap® Cable Tie allows the tip to be inserted through the cinch slot, and then the user can cinch the strap down onto itself for a secure hold. The cinch slot also allows the user to wrap the strap around a cable, through the cinch slot and then the strap will remain affixed to the cable when the cable is in use. When the user wants to bundle that cable up, the hook and loop cable tie is attached and ready to bundle the cable.

Know Your Application:
Different materials can be used to fabricate a hook and loop strap based upon the user’s application. For example, Speedtech International has their engineers discuss applications with customers before they recommend the appropriate hook and loop cable tie. “If a customer is planning to reuse a tie often, we would recommend a hook and loop manufactured with special hooks and loops that allow for high-cycle life. In a situation when reuse will be limited, we may recommend other materials including a finished tie that has great shear strength. It’s all about balancing a customer’s needs and pricing goals and matching them with the best suited material and finished hook and loop tie,” says Steve Pope, Speedtech’s Director of Marketing. Hook and loop ties are available in a range of prices and can be very economical. Straps such as Velcro® brand Qwik Tie fasteners and straps or Speedwrap® Economy Ties™ are fabricated from a lower profile material. While these ties are lower in profile they are surprisingly strong in shear value and are also reusable.

Speedtech International, Incorporated is located in Racine, Wisconsin and just celebrated its 15th anniversary. Speedtech was a pioneer in the development of hook and loop cable management, and remains a leading provider of wire routing, bundling and organizing solutions using hook and loop. The company also sells VELCRO® and Speedwrap® brand fasteners at wholesales prices or consumer direct with no minimum order.

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