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Wire Barrels Vs. Wire Reels: Which Should Electrical Wholesalers Offer?

Electrical wholesalers sell wire and cable in a variety of packages and configurations. You might simply box up loose coils. You might offer cut-to-length orders, packed on wooden or metal reels. You might even bundle wire orders with value-added services, like dyeing and striping, custom paralleling, or delivered solutions that are ready to install right off the truck.

Wire barrels are a packaging choice that combines a few of these options into one. But is a wire barrel really a better solution than a wire reel? More importantly, what do electrical contractors prefer, so you can offer the services that keep your dealership growing?

Here’s an introductory comparison between wire barrels and wire reels, along with a few tips for getting the most out of your existing reel stock.

Wire Barrels Vs. Wire Reels: A Comparison

A wire barrel, or cable drum, is a large cylinder that comes pre-packed with custom wire orders, wound around a central core. This design allows users to pull directly from the same package the wire was shipped in. 

A wire reel is a large, spool-shaped package that carries electrical wires and cables of all types. It’s the standard for cable and wire shipments in the electrical industry, and for good reason: The drum design allows users to pay out wire easily, while flanges protect the product during transit.

Wire barrels and wire reels share many of the same design characteristics. They both spool wire around a central drum. They both provide some measure of protection for their contents. In fact, you can think of a wire barrel as a long, thin, sideways reel with walled flanges.

But that simple difference leads to some very different material handling challenges. Here are the comparative advantages and disadvantages of barrels versus reels.

Wire Barrel Benefits

  • Wire barrels are generally easier to handle than reels, since they don’t have to be rotated 90 degrees prior to accessing contents.
  • You can pull conductor directly from a barrel, without the need for additional pay-out equipment.
  • Wire inside a barrel is completely protected with the barrel walls, whereas the outer layer of wire is exposed on a reel.
  • Because barrels are stackable, they may take up less space in the warehouse.

Wire Barrel Limitations Parallel Reel Payout

  • Because of their solid walls, wire barrels are difficult to pack — especially for custom paralleled orders.
  • Packing wire barrels require a specialized wire barrel packing system, which can be expensive.
  • The industry already runs on reels, so electrical contractors are more likely to have reel-based material handling equipment. They might not have barrel trucks, for instance, but they probably have access to jack stands.
  • Wire barrels are less common than reels, so electrical contractors might not know to ask for them. That creates a dubious cost-benefit analysis for investing in barrel-packing equipment.

Next, we’ll discuss the major advantages and disadvantages of wire reels by way of comparison.

Wire Reel Benefits

  • Wire reels are the industry standard for storing and paying out wire and cable. Wholesaler and contractor facilities are likely already set up to handle them.
  • The open sides of a reel provide simpler access to contents compared to closed-wall drums.
  • Reels are compatible with advanced cable reeling equipment, including Spool Winding Trolleys, for fast, low-cost order fulfillment.
  • Steel cable reels are reusable and support delivered solutions when pre-loaded onto Parallel Reel Payouts. Alternatively, plastic reels are low-weight and low-cost, and make ideal delivered solutions as part of a Wire Pull Cart.

Wire Reel Limitations 

  • Wire reels require additional equipment for payout, whereas you can pull wire directly from a barrel.
  • Reels generally occupy a larger footprint than barrels.
  • Disposable plywood reels create more jobsite waste than a barrel (though reusable steel reels eliminate this challenge).
  • Wooden reels can be broken if handled roughly (again, this problem is solved with metal reels).

Choosing Between Wire Barrels and Wire Reels

Given the unique traits listed above, which wire-packaging option should wholesalers offer? Ideally, you’d supply both, providing your customers with wire barrels or reels, depending on their preference. If you have limited space or resources, however, you’re better off sticking with reels — especially reusable steel reels. Wire Pull Carts

With a fleet of steel reels and Reel Stands, you can rent equipment to your customers while reducing waste at the job site. Even better, you can pre-package wire orders onto Parallel Reel Payouts, providing a delivered solution that saves considerable time during electrical installations.

One of the strongest benefits of a multi-conductor wire barrel is that electricians can pull conductor directly from the product’s packaging, without additional equipment. When you sell wire on a ready-to-use Parallel Reel Payout, you provide the same benefit with stronger payout performance.

The use of reels over barrels also gives you access to a developed ecosystem of time- and cost-saving reel handling equipment. When you outfit your wholesale facility with reels and reel handling solutions, you can fill orders faster, improve workplace safety, and provide value-added services that promote customer loyalty.

Reel Handling Equipment for Wire and Cable Wholesalers

If your customers are asking for wire barrels, that’s usually because they’re having trouble with reels. The right equipment can remove any reel-handling challenge they might face, however — as long as you have that equipment on offer. 

Here are a few solutions that allow you to get the benefits of barrels without investing in new barrel-packing systems.

1. Convenient Reel Storage

Barrels stand easily on their own. You can get reels to do the same with solutions like the Reel Sherpa Stacker from Solus Group. This steel storage cradle keeps large, metal reels safely in place — without having to alter warehouse shelving.

When these stands aren’t in use, you can stack them vertically to reduce storage needs to a single unit’s footprint. With a carrying capacity of 5,000 pounds, these reel stands are suitable for your biggest multi-compartment steel reels.

To store and transport heavy-duty cable reels, choose the original Reel Sherpa Cradle. This walled cradle opens at one end for loading and unloading. Shut the loading panel to create a secure, open-topped steel box that keeps reels firmly in place while you move them via forklift or truck.

2. Safe, Efficient Reel Handling

Both wire barrels and heavy-duty reels require specialized material handling equipment. For barrels, that might be a drum lifter attachment. If you’d also like to move reels via forklift, two strong options are available:

  • A Reel Handler Attachment lifts cable reels, loaded or unloaded, from below. A front reel stop locks onto one of five positions, allowing you to secure reels of multiple sizes.
  • The Overhead Reel Lifter is a forklift attachment that secures to reel axles via hook and chain. It allows you to lift reels from above.

Perhaps the simplest way to handle cable reels is to store them on the very equipment your customers will use at the installation site. Reel Stands are A-frame wagons for steel cable reels, complete with fork pockets for movement via lift truck. And Parallel Reel Payouts combine your choice of multi- or single-compartment reels with a moveable stand. They create an all-in-one storage, transport, and payout solution for a full job’s worth of conductor.

3. Full Delivered Solutions for Wire and Cable Orders  

Wire barrels are marketed as a combination storage-and-payout solution; their strongest benefit is the ability to pull directly from the barrel, without any other equipment. The Reel Sherpa® Stacker

There’s clearly demand for this sort of ready-to-go packaging, which we call a delivered solution. With the right equipment in stock, you can provide this value-added service with the reels you already own. Here are a few options for creating delivered solutions based around wire and cable reels:

  • Package bulk cable orders on a Parallel Reel Payout. You can add multiple reels, connected or free-spinning, with different conductors loaded onto each. That enables custom paralleling, payout, transportation, and storage all in one. For even more mobile cable supplies, choose a Parallel Reel Payout Wagon — and for narrow aisles, try the Narrow Parallel Reel Payout.
  • Deliver bulk orders of wire on a Wire Pull Cart. These steel enclosures hold up to 18 wire reels, sized 17 inches by 9 inches, or half as many 17-inch by 18-inch reels. Each wire emerges from a separate PVC wire guide, so electricians have ready access to any conductor they need. The cart locks up tight to protect your stock between uses, too.
  • Send individual wire reels to the job on a Reel Taxi roller platform. These highly mobile carts are ideal for data cable, and support any reel with a diameter between 12 and 24 inches. The unit rolls into place, following electricians anywhere in the facility — then provide smooth, efficient payout thanks to the roller platform.

These are just a few of the ways you can create delivered solutions for orders, without creating a wire barrel packing station. As the experts in cable and wire handling, the Solus Group team can help you outfit your wholesaler facility with all the equipment you need to provide delivered solutions — including an extensive line of specialized carts for electrical materials.   

To learn more about the options, contact Solus Group at 314-696-0200 today.