10 Essential Components of an Effective Commercial Extension Cord Reel System

June 5, 2024

Extension cord reels are essential for many applications, providing a solution to keeping cabling organized and powering equipment away from electrical outlets. They consist of a cylindrical drum, disks or flanges to secure the cord, a frame, and mounting accessories. While portable where needed, they are also easily mountable on various surfaces like carts, ceilings, floors, and walls. Cord reels, whether commercial-grade or not, play a crucial role in distributing electricity efficiently and safely, preventing damage and tripping hazards. Some reels are purpose-built, while others serve multiple applications, making them indispensable tools in any workplace setting.

Essential Parts for Commercial-Grade Extension Cord Reel Systems

What’s an essential component for any commercial-grade extension cord reel system depends greatly on the application. While reels are a great way to keep extension cords from becoming tangled, certain specifications allow workers to perform better the task they’re used for. Whether used for auto repair shops, construction sites, movie sets, workshops, or other worksites, commercial-grade extension cords and the reel systems that protect them often require specific features.

These might include characteristics that make them easier to use or more durable when used under harsh conditions. There are also various types of commercial-grade extension cords and reels. Many of these are designed to perform in multiple applications, though custom-designed cable reels can also be made to fit specific purposes. Cord reels can also be installed for permanent or temporary cabling storage or remain completely mobile. Commercial-grade extension cord reels augment workplace productivity and safety wherever they’re used.

10 Components That Make Cord Reel Systems More Effective 

The content discusses basic cord reel systems and commercial-grade options. Extension cord reels vary in portability and materials, like plastic or stainless steel. While retail stores may suffice for lighter duties, harsh environments require professional-grade reels with suitable components. Considerations for workplace extension cords include length, gauge, diameter, and bend radius. Larger reels are needed for longer and thicker cabling. Weight is crucial for retractable reels, requiring a robust mechanism for heavier cords.

Here are 10 ways to ensure that a professional-grade extension cord reel will be effective for the application for which it’s to be used: 

  1. Configurations

Though a cord reel doesn’t need to be installed, mounting systems allow for its storage between uses or enable cabling to be accessed from a certain position. There are four basic types of commercial-grade extension cord reel system.

These four classifications are:

  • Lift: This is the most common cord reel in the workplace, which involves mounting the reel on the ceiling or wall above a workstation to allow workers to pull down cabling manually or via machine. Featuring a racket to lock the reel in place once extended, these reels are built to carry the weight of both the outlet box and the cabling, so should be constructed from stronger materials. These types of reels are found in factories and other commercial and industrial facilities.
  • Drag: This type of cord reel is mounted on a column or wall slightly above ground level. These reels allow mechanical or manual cable dragging along the ground, featuring a racket to lock it in place once extended. These configurations allow for the cable to move over a wider area.
  • Stretch: Also used to extend an extension cord horizontally, this configuration allows the cable to sag. Hence, it needs to provide an additional length of about 10 percent to allow for this. Reels are mounted above the ground for stretch configurations, sometimes on ceilings, and can be made mobile or remain stationary.
  • Retrieve: These commercial-grade extension cord reels can be mounted on mobile equipment. The free end of the cable remains affixed to a support from which the extension cord then extends as the reel moves away or retracts the cable as it draws closer. These configurations include mechanisms with sufficient spring tension so that cabling retracts quickly enough so that equipment won’t overtake it.
  • Vertical pick-up: This type of cord reel entails the cord reel being mounted on a support attached to a machine support to allow it to move vertically, with a power source positioned above the reel’s drum and at the end of the cable. These reels require tight spring tension to allow the cabling to feed upwards into the reel, with the reel either coiling up or unwinding as it moves with the equipment to which it’s attached.
  1. Electrical Requirements

Commercial-grade extension cord reels usually have a live connection to allow electricity to pass through, powering electrical equipment. They need to have the right amperage and voltage ratings, as well as the correct socket and plug type to transfer electricity reliably between the main power supply and equipment. Adequate electrical outlets are necessary if multiple machines require power, and a grounding terminal is advisable for safety. Automatic circuit breakers protect equipment from short circuits and current spikes. Some applications may also need USB slots for device charging.

  1. Enclosures & Casings

Reels and commercial-grade extension cords must endure the working environment’s conditions in which they operate. This could involve weather-protected enclosures for outdoor reels or sealed casings safeguarding internal components from corrosion, dust, impact, and typical workplace conditions. Enclosed reels provide superior cable protection against damage.

  1. Hazardous Environments

For cable reels used in grain silos, mining operations, paint factories, petrochemical plants, and other facilities dealing with flammable materials, specific features are required to meet commercial-grade standards. Extension cord reels designed for such environments typically include spark-free ratchets and slip ring housings that are explosion-resistant.

  1. Cord Length

Commercial-grade extension cords must be long enough to bridge the gap between a workstation and the power source. Reels and extension cords should also be positioned so they don’t pose a tripping hazard. Consider other aspects related to cable length as well.

These include:

  • Active length: The length of cord used to cover the distance between the cord reel and work area.
  • Hook-up length: This is the length of cord needed to connect the cord’s free end to a power source.
  • Inactive length: The amount of cabling that stays outside the reel once fully retracted, essentially the length of payout at its minimum.
  • Lift height: Applicable to drag and retrieve configurations, this is the vertical distance from the reel to where the cord is.
  • Sag allowance: Sagging occurs due to gravity, especially when a cord is stretched horizontally and not supported; generally, this should be about 10 percent of the active and inactive lengths to accommodate sagging, also called the “sag factor.” 

When considering the payout angles, it’s important to factor in the angle at which the cable pays out. Excessive payout angles can strain the cabling if extended for too long, leading to a shorter lifespan. Swing mounts or swivel bases come into play when the payout angle exceeds 150 degrees, facilitating a broader range of motion. 

  1. Lighting

When working at night, underground, or in places where there’s very little light, commercial-grade extension cord reels will often feature cord reels with lights. These can be provided by LED (light-emitting diodes) or fluorescent lights attached to the free end of the power cable. This light can be hung above the work area once the cord is extended to its desired length to illuminate the work area.

  1. Motors

A motor is often an essential component for applications where it takes a great deal of force to retract cabling. These motors slowly and steadily pull in the extension cord to keep it from overstretching and prevent it from being damaged. Reel motors can be electric, hydraulic, or pneumatic. Electric motors for commercial-grade extension cord reels tend to be powered by the main power supply.

In contrast, hydraulic-powered reels use liquid under pressure, while pneumatic reel motors use compressed air. These types of professional-grade reels are often used when there isn’t a suitable electrical power source available, and they neither overheat nor cause overloads. This also makes them perfect for working in environments where there’s a risk of combustion. Often used outdoors and in remote locations, motor-driven reels for extension cords work well for construction sites, mines, refineries, tunnels, water treatment facilities, and other heavy-duty applications. 

  1. NEMA Rating & IP Rating

Similar to IP ratings, NEMA (National Electronic Manufacturer’s Association) enclosure ratings define different types of environmental conditions an extension cable can withstand, including corrosion, foreign matter, moisture, and temperature. Commercial-grade extension cords should always show their IP rating prominently.

The IP (ingress protection) ratings from the IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) for electrical enclosures apply to commercial-grade extension cords and the reels that house them. These enclosures seal the reel to protect internal components against moisture, dust, and other contaminants. The IEC 60509 standard and EN 60529 standard both use these IP ratings to determine how well-protected a reel is.

  1. Retraction Devices

Most commercial-grade extension cord reels feature retraction devices, which pull the cabling back around the reel automatically with a spring mechanism. Using a steel torsion spring, as the cord uncoils it builds up tension. Once this stored energy is released, the cord retracts back onto the reel. When pulled, the extension cord is guided between dual roller guides until it reaches the right length. The roller guides are smooth, so protect the cable from wear, while the clearance between the rollers directs the cable’s movement on and off the reel. 

As the cord reaches the desired length, a ratcheting device locks the cord in place, keeping it from retracting or feeding out. Near the end of the cabling, a stopper that’s larger than the clearance between the rollers holds the cord’s free end on the reel when retracted fully. Meanwhile, a guide arm adjusts the angle at which the cord pays out. Commercial-grade extension cord reels that retract generally work best in a central location where they can reach much of the work area. They can be mounted on workbenches, walls, ceilings or other surfaces and are often found in places like factories, machine shops, and vehicle repair garages. 

  1. UL Certification

Certification from Underwriters Laboratories (UL) offers a means to determine the safety of a commercial-grade extension. Cord reels are also inspected, tested, and certified under what’s known as the UL Standard for Safety Cord Reels, or UL 355. A UL stamp is essential for any extension cabling used in the workplace, as it certifies that both the extension cord and the reel function as they should while meeting demanding quality and safety specifications.

To learn more about commercial-grade extension cords and reels to store them, contact the reel experts at Alert Reel Manufacturing.