The Benefits of Cleaning Magnetic Tape

Magnetic tape has been in use for more than 50 years – from audio cassettes and VHS tape to Digital Video, DLT and LTO tape cartridges. Data Devices receives a constant stream of inquiries for tape cleaners for all kinds of tape, from VHS to LTO – why is this?

There are several very good reasons to clean magnetic tape. Perhaps the most serious is physical failure from the introduction of mold, fungus, and dirt to the surface of the tape, which happens frequently with VHS tape. This makes the tape completely unusable. Cleaning the tape surface can completely restore these tapes for reuse without any damage to the tape or loss of information on the tape.

A second serious failure is caused by heat and moisture. If older tapes have not been properly stored and/or cared for, binder hydrolysis and chemical degradation can cause tape layers to “stick” together. Layers of tape that adhere together will prevent the tape drive motors from advancing at the speed required to correctly read the tape.

Proper care means storing tape at the right temperature and humidity; storing all tape on end; and cleaning and retensioning all archival tapes at regular intervals to restore operating tension. Tape cleaners accomplish all of these requirements, as well as removing stray oxide particles from hazardous areas of the tape.

Users of 3490e and 3590 computer tape still need tape cleaners to remove excess oxide and other dirt and debris for improved performance on computers. Quantum Corporation indicates that this is one of the top three causes of tape failure. Tape cleaners also incorporate physical defect scanners to “weed out” tape cartridges with physical defects.

Using a tape cleaner performs three corrective procedures at one time: 1) clean the tape completely, 2) retension the tape for proper operation on the computer, and 3) “weed out” cartridges with physical tape damage to be replaced.

Users of DLT and LTO magnetic tape cartridges have an entirely different problem. These linear recording and drive technologies apply very high pressure to the tape during the rewind cycle. Airborne debris can be wound into the tape between the layers of the tape.

If this happens, the debris will be subjected to tremendous pressure by having layer upon layer of tape wound on top of the debris. If it becomes imbedded into the surface, it can actually make a “dimple” (dent) in the surface of the tape. The “dent” becomes a “bump” on the other side of the tape. Because of the thin tape, this bump can penetrate many layers of tape.

The resulting bumps can cause head to media separation and reduction in signal amplitude – leading to read failures on the computer. Processing the tape through a cleaner/retensioner will give the media time to recover and, in most cases, the tape will return to “like-new” condition.

We have recently introduced the VeriTape® LTO Cartridge Quality Analyzer. VeriTape accesses and interprets the internal cartridge memory chip (CM), producing a clear, concise rating to indicate tape quality that is based on tape errors throughout the lifetime of the cartridge. This way, you can scan a cartridge both before you enter it into a tape library to ensure it is in excellent working order and also periodically throughout the lifetime of the tape for maintenance.

In today’s price-conscious and environment-conscious climate, more users are looking to recycle tape for reuse – both to save money and also to save that tape from ending up in a land fill. In many cases, the difference between a working tape and a not-working tape is a simple cleaning and retensioning. There are a variety of units on the market, such as the VeriTape, that will help accomplish these goals.

In summary, every tape suffers degradation from continued use. Today’s new tape is the best quality that has ever been produced. Users need good care and handling procedures, as well as cleaning and inspection methods, to ensure tape maintains top quality.

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