Pole Loading Misconceptions

Pole loading analysis is a beautiful thing. With all the ongoing small cell projects for 5G wireless, fiber networks powering gigabit internet service, and rural broadband deployment, evaluating existing and proposed conditions accurately is critical.

Loading analysis is crucial for these projects not just to keep each pole’s surroundings safe, but also to maximize service up time for utilities across the country.

Calculating custom loads can be a daunting task, so it is easier for power companies to set conservative standards that, if built to spec, are not at risk of failing. These standards, however, were not designed to cover the plethora of communication attachments now present on utility poles.

Below is a publicly available spec sheet for cabinet attachments.

a publicly open spec sheet for cabinet attachments

Luckily, as data collection technology improves, calculating an individual pole’s load has gotten easier.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy, however. Getting wire, insulator, and equipment specs from the power company isn’t the fastest process, and making sure all communication cables are modeled properly can take some time, too. Plus, each project might require your team to master a different type of pole loading software.

pole data inside of the pole loading platform SPIDAcalc

The swirling pole above is the 3D model provided by SPIDAcalc, a loading software created by Spida Software located in Columbus, Ohio. SPIDAcalc is becoming a go-to solution for calculating custom loading cases in markets around the country. Oddly enough, the pole featured above passed loading with flying colors. While SPIDA does indicate the forces acting on the pole, it also shows the loading percentage by height on the pole, which means you can view a model like the one above, notice the unbalanced forces, but also know that your pole passes loading analysis.

Osmose's pole loading software, O-Calc, with a pole loaded in

O-Calc Pro has long been a standard for projects requiring pole loading analysis. Created by Osmose (headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia), the program has a terrific interface, and is a favorite among our processing team. O-Calc’s newest release will allow users to model entire pole lines, instead of just individual poles.

Other pole loading analysis software solutions include PoleForeman (PowerLine Technology), EZ Load (Darren Hanson), and PLS-CADD (Power Line Systems).

Common Misconceptions When Doing PLA:

  1. When a pole is overloaded, it’s going to break. Not quite. Poles are made of wood, so their structure has natural variance. Many poles over capacity live long, happy lives and survive many terrible storms. But, we need nearly every pole to survive even the worst of storms so that we don’t have the entire electrical grid flattened every time a nightmare storm rolls through.
  2. The other company didn’t place a guy so I don’t have to either. Definitely not the case. Unbalanced loads can quickly consume the available capacity of a pole. If everyone skips guying the same break angle, or everyone builds in the same slack span, the pole will quickly become overloaded. The power company builds to handle its load, but didn’t build to handle the unbalanced loads of future attachers.
  3. That other company put a span guy here, so I will, too. Not always. This creates an unbalanced load, and may become the straw that breaks the camel’s back. There is a good chance that multiple span guys on a pole will overload it.
  4. Pole loading software is just a big calculator. As long as I put the correct equipment and specs into the program it will give me the correct answer. I wish. Wire tensions are not typically measured in the field. This means that static loading analysis is the typical form of PLA, analyzing worst case scenarios. This method will work for definite pass and definite fail scenarios, but will not be nuanced enough to always get the right answer for borderline cases.

a picture of a telephone pole with all the wires attached to it

Thanks for reading! If you’d like to learn more about common misconceptions when considering pole loading analysis, we’d love to chat. Our processing team has lots of experience with SPIDAcalc, O-Calc Pro, PoleForeman, and more. The Katapult coding team has built custom exports to cleanly integrate with all these mentioned above, and are always looking to integrate with other software, too. Give us a call at 717-432-0716 to learn more about how the Katapult method and KatapultPro can make loading analysis fast and easier than ever.

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