Plastic-infused rope was developed to provide better fatigue, abrasion and crushing resistance derived from the cushioning and dampening effect of the plastic. However great the benefits, the plastic becomes at the very least an inconvenience when trying to inspect the wire rope. Because of the plastic coating, some operators choose to forego inspection and run the ropes to failure. Other operators may just visually inspect the plastic coating. Both practices are wrong and carry equally the potential for disaster.
- Abrasion and Crushing. In inspecting plastic-infused ropes, the basic inspection guidelines still apply and should be followed. Abrasion and crushing damage may still occur, so it is imperative to inspect flanges, sheaves, bearings, rollers and fairleads. Look for unusual wear patterns in the plastic -- a key indicator that damage to the wire rope is occurring.
- Wire Breaks. Wire breaks will still occur in a plastic-infused rope, but are sometimes extremely difficult to detect, though occasionally a broken wire will protrude through the plastic. Every effort must be made to determine the overall condition of the rope. The plastic covering the crown (surface) wires is generally applied in a thin coat and tends to wear quickly in areas which pass over sheaves and drums. As the rope runs at a slow speed, inspect the rope in these areas. As the rope and plastic open up the inspector will be afforded a look at not only the surface area but also the interstrand contact points. If a valley break is detected, immediately pull the rope from service. Also inspect areas where the plastic has peeled, regardless of the location of the "window." Remove as much plastic from these areas as possible to allow for efficient and effective inspection techniques. Remember, due to the nature of plastic-infused ropes, there is no way to clearly determine the number of valley breaks.
- Corrosion. Plastic-infused ropes provide only improved corrosion resistance. Regardless of manufacturers’ claims, a plastic-infused rope can corrode, and rope failure due to corrosion is still possible. Moisture is sometimes trapped in the rope and as with all machines, the lubricant may become ineffective over time. The inspector must visually check for any signs of corrosion damage as evidenced by rope bleeding or rouging. In addition, the diameter must be frequently measured. If there is any damage to the core, it will be detected by a reduction in diameter. Also inspect the lay of the rope. As the plastic is thinner over the crown wires, a thorough inspector may be able to determine a lengthening of lay, also a sign of rope deterioration. Especially when trying to determine lengthening of lay, watch for and inspect areas where the plastic pulls away from the rope. While peeling in and of itself is not an indication of rope deterioration and is a factor of normal wear, peeling in areas where no abrasion exists may signify a problem.
- Maintenance Records. Equally important in inspecting plastic-infused ropes is maintaining accurate service records. The service records of previous ropes will provide a guideline as to the expected life of the rope. However, they should not be used alone or only in conjunction with visual inspections due to the number of variables which exist, including installation, spooling and manufacturing practices. Maintenance records must be used in combination with both visual and physical inspection techniques to be truly of value in determining the remaining life of the rope.
Die drawn and swaged ropes fall into the compacted category. Compacting serves several purposes. By flattening the outer wires, metallic area increases allowing for a higher breaking strength as well as improved crushing and abrasion resistance. In addition, the compaction minimizes inter-strand nicking and thereby improves fatigue resistance.
In the inspection of compacted rope designs, again it is imperative to follow the basic inspection guidelines and use both visual and actual measuring techniques to determine the remaining life of the rope. In fact, actual measuring techniques are very important when inspecting these ropes. While corrosion is relatively easy to visually determine, diameter reduction may not be due to the compacted rope’s appearance. Therefore the inspector must regularly measure for diameter reduction and closely examine the rope for lay lengthening. Measurements must be recorded and the rope monitored for sudden variations.
By and large the most difficult retirement criteria to determine in compacted ropes is wire breaks. These breaks may not protrude from the rope due to the compaction and can be easily overlooked. Because of this, the inspector must slowly and carefully examine the rope, especially in those areas passing over drums and sheaves or in areas where problems existed in previous ropes.
A wire break may appear as nothing more than a crack in the wire, and again can be easily overlooked. If the inspector notes a "flaw" in a wire, it should be carefully checked. The inspector should carry some type of magnifying device to determine if a flaw is actually a break. If a break has occurred, thoroughly check the area for additional breaks, both on the crown and in the valleys. Remember, valley breaks in round strand ropes are difficult to determine; compaction only increases the difficulty. The inspector must be slow and methodical in inspecting compacted ropes; a quick check will reveal nothing.
Overall, perhaps the most important inspection technique is recognizing the limits of wire rope. While it’s true that compacted and plastic-infused ropes are more durable, neglect and abuse will still quickly end the rope’s life. There is no substitute for proper installation, handling and inspection techniques in combination with a preventative maintenance program.