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Electrical tape (or insulating tape) is a type of pressure-sensitive tape used to insulate electrical wires and other materials that conduct electricity. It can be made of many plastics, but vinyl is most popular, as it stretches well and gives an effective and long lasting insulation. Electrical tape for class H insulation is made of fiberglass cloth.
According to a Popular Mechanics article in 1973, "Plastic tape is also known as electrical tape." A wide variety of electrical tapes is available; some for highly specialized purposes. "The primary tapes used in electrical applications are vinyl, rubber, mastic, and varnished cambric." Electricians generally use only black tape for insulation purposes. The other colors are used to indicate the voltage level and phase of the wire. (In fact, the colored tape is referred to as "phasing tape".) This is done on large wire which is available only in black insulation. When wires are phased, a ring of tape is placed on each end near the termination so that the purpose of the wire is obvious. The following table(s) describe the use of electrical tape.
|Tape color||Usage (U.S.)||Usage (U.K.)||Usage (International – new)|
Low voltage, phase A
Low voltage, neutral
|Low voltage, phase B|
|Red||Low voltage, phase B||Low voltage, phase A||Sheath, 415 V 3 phase|
|Blue||Low voltage, phase C||Low voltage, phase C||Low voltage, neutral
Sheath, 230 V
|Brown||High voltage, phase A||Low voltage, phase A|
|Orange||High voltage, phase B||Sheath, garden tools|
|Yellow||High voltage, phase C||Low voltage, phase B||Sheath, 110 V site wiring|
|Green with yellow stripe||Isolated ground||Earth|
|White||Low voltage, neutral|
|Grey||High voltage, neutral||Low voltage, phase C|
As it is easily torn by hand, can be written on, and generally removes from smooth surfaces cleanly, it is useful for a number of other applications such as labelling (including colour-coding) and temporarily attaching objects to one another. It can be torn by hand or cut with tools.
In Pakistan and India, electric tape is very commonly used to wrap a tennis ball for purposes of playing backyard cricket. The electric tape provides a smooth surface, causing the tennis ball to grip a concrete surface less, makes the ball harder to hit, and causes it to bounce less. These properties make the ball behave more like a leather cricket ball, yet still being substantially cheaper and less dangerous.
Electrical tape is also used in the marching arts (e.g. marching band, drum corps.) Drummers wrap their sticks in electrical tape, which allows for a better grip. It also makes the stick last longer. Color guards also use it on their sabers and rifles.
Today electrical tape is simply, "another form of insulation". The original electrical insulating tape was made of cloth tape impregnated with Chatterton's compound, an adhesive material manufactured using Gutta-percha. This type of tape was often used to insulate soldered splices on knob and tube wiring. It was commonly referred to as "friction tape", and had the unique property of being sticky on both sides. Because of this, no matter how it was used it stuck to itself very readily.
In th early 1940s, vinyl plastic emerged as a versatile material for a wide range of applications, from shower curtains to cable insulation. A major ingredient in vinyl film was tricresyl phosphate (TCP), which was used as a plasticizer. Unfortunately, TCP tended to migrate, giving the surface of the vinyl film an oily quality and degrading every tape adhesive known. Research chemists and engineers at 3M set out to create a dependable, pressure-sensitive tape made of vinyl film that would have the required electrical, physical and chemical properties.
Experiments were conducted combining new plasticizers with the white, flour-like vinyl resin. Finally, in January 1946, inventors Snell, Oace, and Eastwold of 3M applied for a patent for a vinyl electrical tape with a plasticizer system and non-sulfur-based rubber adhesive that were compatible. The first commercially available version of the tape was sold for use as a wire-harness wrapping. Interestingly, this original black tape wasn't black at all. Tapes formulated for high-temperature were yellow, and later versions were white. White tape, because of its instability in ultraviolet light, was eventually replaced with black tape, although colored vinyl tapes are still used as identification and marking tapes. Black became the standard industry color for vinyl standard tape, primarily because of its ultraviolet resistance. Thicknesses originally were 4 mil (100 µm), 8 mil (200 µm) and 12 mil (300 µm). These were standardized to 7 mil (180 µm) and 10 mil (250 µm) in 1948.
- "How to cut, splice, and connect wires", Popular Mechanics, Vol. 139, No. 3, p.138. ISSN 0032-4558.
- Bob Goodman and Rodney G. Brown (3M). "Electrical Taping Skills: A Lost Art?", EC&M, p.2.
- "Authorized Label Suppliers", UL.com. Accessed January 2016.
- Horner, Jim (1986). Automotive Electrical Handbook, p.68. Penguin. ISBN 9780895862389.
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