The Cable Guru’s Guide to Flat and Ribbon Cable Assemblies

colorful ribbon cables

If you’ve ever popped open your PC, you’ve no doubt seen a host of flat or ribbon cable assemblies connecting your computer’s various components. This uniquely-suited cable assembly provides a host of possible applications, especially where space constraints are a factor. 

In today’s spotlight series, we’re covering everything you need to know about this humble workhorse and detailing ways that flat and ribbon cable assemblies can significantly save your project time and money.

Flat Cable Assemblies vs. Ribbon Cable Assemblies

Flat cable assemblies, ribbon cable assemblies, even planar cable assemblies are all different ways of referring to the same unique type of cable assembly. Because the wires are laid flat and arranged parallel to one another, the finished product is wide and flat and resembles a length of ribbon – hence, ribbon cable. This shape makes it extremely flexible and able to fit in spaces where other cable assemblies would not be feasible. 

Because of the connector’s engineering, a flat ribbon cable assembly can accomplish many connections simultaneously, which helps save time and money in the overall assembly design and production. While ribbon cable assemblies can go by several different names, they are all referring to the same versatile product.

Meridian’s high-performance automatic cutting machine at work! This machine processes a plethora of wires and cables. 

Understanding the Specifications for Common Ribbon Cable Assemblies

You can tell ribbon cable assemblies apart with two key measures – the spacing, also known as “pitch”, and how many conductors are used in the assembly. Spacing will almost always follow a set scale, but our team is well-versed in creating custom spacing solutions for a specific task at hand. The number of conductors used also follows a standardized scale, with options for customization available here as well. For the conductors themselves, we can use a variety of American Wire Gauge (AWG) sizes of stranded copper wire but ribbon cable assemblies typically run from 18 AWG to 34 AWG.  

Main Advantages of Ribbon Cable Assemblies 

Flat ribbon cable assemblies terminate into an industry-standard insulation displacement contact (IDC) socket. This means that flat ribbon cable is one of the most versatile cable assemblies on the market today. They are well suited for wire-to-board applications that are commonly found in telecommunications, networking, medical devices, industrial control systems, military applications, gaming, and a whole host of others.

Different Types of Ribbon Cable Connectors

With a wide variety of different cable connectors available for flat ribbon cable assemblies, Meridian can produce the perfect connector to fit within the application. Because the connectors allow for multiple connections simultaneously, our design engineers focus on providing the perfect components to match the existing system being implemented.

A few of the most common types of ribbon cable connectors include:

  • D-Subminiature (d-sub): a common type of ribbon cable connector so-named because of the “D” shape of their metal shield. You’ll recognize these connectors as the type usually used to connect components like monitors to your desktop computer. D-subs come in a wide variety of types all their own including M-single, F-single, M-M, and F-F. Different elements like strain relief and inserts can help customize the perfect d-sub connector for your project’s unique application.
  • Socket: too many of these versatile socket-type ribbon connectors exist to list but a few of the different variety include socket to cable, socket to cable T-P, and socket to socket.
  • Dips: dip connectors help provide a sharp 90-degree turn for the termination. They can be dip to single and dip to dip with a great many variations within those two broad categories.
  • Card Edge: resembling a credit card slot on a payment device, the card edge connector is available in varieties like the card edge to single without flange and card edge to single with drilled flange. 

Our design engineers know each of these connectors inside and out and combine decades of experience in cable assembly production to pull off some incredible feats for our clients. No matter the environment, complex specifications, or logistical challenges, our team can produce the perfect ribbon cable assembly connections needed for your custom project. 

How we Create Custom Ribbon Cable Assemblies

At our core, Meridian is, and always will be, a custom cable assembly design firm. We employ teams of in-house engineers and designers with many years of experience producing custom cable assemblies for every conceivable industry. Rare indeed is the ribbon cable assembly that goes from design to volume production without thousands of steps in between that continuously test and tweak until the perfect solution is achieved. 

Some of the many steps our dedicated project managers help keep on-track include:

  • Ribbon Cable Assembly Design Phase

When our design engineers first sit down with our clients looking for ribbon cable assemblies, they take the time to get to know the specifications needed, as good, if not better, than the client themselves. In this way, we design the perfect solution to meet the needs of the project, rather than trying to make the project fit with an off-the-shelf solution. 

With state-of-the-art CAD design software, our team sets to work to build the perfect amalgamation of wires, connectors, terminations, and other components in a digital space before the first physical pieces ever come together. Once these designs are exact, our design team will move to prototype to start testing how everything comes together in the real world.

  • Prototyping Steps for Flat Ribbon Cable Projects

The prototyping phase allows our engineers the opportunity to test a few different combinations for the materials and/or processes used in a particular flat ribbon cable assembly. We test each unit for integrity, stability, safety, and functionality and see how that specific unit’s components work together. One crucial piece of prototyping is testing different sourcing logistics. Knowing the most efficient means of producing the best variation of a particular assembly is how we’re able to consistently provide dependable products to our clients.

  • Getting Flat Ribbon Cable Assemblies into Volume Production

Once we’re sure which iteration provides the best combination of form and function, we’ll move ahead with volume producing the assemblies per the project specs. Over time, we’ve built our existing tool crib into a virtual library of more than 5,000 tools, connectors, and other components available for use during production. Honing our process using Kanban manufacturing techniques and just-in-time ordering, we are always aiming to make our processes more efficient. 

  • Simulating Real-World Conditions in the Advanced Life Testing Lab

Cable assemblies are destined for any number of harsh environments and our design team has to take into account any environmental factors that can hinder the cables’ performance. 

In our Advanced Life Testing Lab (arguably one of the most fun places in our production facility), our quality assurance engineers subject the flat ribbon cable assemblies to variables like extreme temps, saltwater, abrasion, flexing, and more, all to ensure that the components we’re using can meet the demands of the project. 

When our ribbon cables are helping to power things like life-saving medical equipment, anything less than a perfect solution won’t make it past our stringent quality standards.

All of these phases require many steps in between in order to go from concept to finished assembly, ready to be implemented by the customer into their existing system. While there are many processes that must occur at proper intervals to keep a project on-time and on-budget, our dedicated project managers handle the entire project with professionalism and the confidence that comes from decades of experience as a custom cable assembly manufacturer.

How Using Ribbon Cable Assemblies Can Save Your Project Money

Flat ribbon cable assemblies are so easy to terminate because of a fixed and controlled spacing plan. This allows for ribbon cables to be able to be mass terminated using the IDC connectors we covered earlier. Typical IDC connectors will use a type of forked-contact that is able to go through insulation in order to make contact with a conductor. While there are times when one end of a cable will utilize an IDC connector and the other may be soldered or crimped, most often, both ends of a ribbon cable assembly will have IDC connectors installed. 

Because the IDCs help simplifies the termination, integration of a flat ribbon cable assembly is extremely easy to accomplish, saving the project time and money over implementing a less-desirable solution. 

Why Choose Meridian? 

At Meridian, we design well over 70% of the assemblies that we produce. With a process honed from years of providing the best quality in custom cable assembly manufacturing available, we are able to provide a turn-key solution to clients around the globe. 

Our wholly-owned manufacturing facilities in the U.S. and China means our team has control over every aspect of the design, production, and delivery of your custom flat ribbon cable assembly and can ensure the product functions dependably, cycle-after-cycle. 

Start Your Flat and Ribbon Cable Assembly Project Now

Contact our team of dedicated professionals today for an entirely different custom cable design experience. We can work within your budget to produce the perfect solution for your unique application. Get a quote through our handy contact form, call us at 1-877-806-8667, or email sales@meridiancableassemblies.com