The Automation of Complex Wire Harness Designs

Wire Harnesses and Wire Assemblies

Automation now accounts for vast amounts of modern manufacturing. Many if not most of the products we purchase have been assembled with the help of an automated process. But, are there certain functions and designs for which human experience and expertise are still required? Of course. Doctors still care for patients, though aided by computers. Roads require engineering and expertise even though engineers use computer aided drafting and design software. 

Complex wire harnesses require the same engineering and expertise expected of good health and good infrastructure. In today’s LiveWire special edition, we’ll explore why complex wire harnesses should not be fully automated with the following topics:

  • What are complex wire harnesses?
  • Why do complex wire harnesses require human engineering?
  • Why do some companies fully automate wire harness design and processing?
  • What aspects of wire harness assembly can be automated?
  • What aspects of wire harness assembly should not be automated?
  • What are some of the design features of wire harnesses?

What are Complex Wire Harnesses?

Complex wire harness designs require precision engineering and assembly, something automation cannot deliver. A wire harness includes an outer layer (protective sheath often of thermoplastic) and an inner layer (wires or cables). Other exterior sheathing materials include PVC, Teflon®, and Silicone. Wire harnesses often contain a variety of cables. Together, the wire harness offers a low-cost electrical solution. 

Remember though, low-cost does not mean simple. Some projects require very complex designs, incorporating conductors, connectors, terminations, sheathing, overmolds, grommets, and strain relief. These design elements require more than automation. They require expertise and engineering, like what is provided by Meridian Cable.

Why Do Complex Wire Harnesses Require Human Engineering?

First, each project requires unique attention and design. Our design team has the tested expertise to custom design wire harnesses in such a way that pitfalls are avoided. This doesn’t mean that automation is completely avoided. 

For example, in the prototyping phase, wire harness designs are subjected first to a series of automated tests from machines like Meridian’s Cerrus units (considered industry gold standard for automated testing). But, design iterations require more than automation. This is why our team ensures that our wire harnesses are custom-designed and manufactured without complete automation. No product ever leaves Meridian’s production line without being rigorously tested to ensure safe and proper function.

Design

Wire harness applications also deserve careful engineering. Automobiles and airplanes require substantial wires to successfully function. Wire harnesses join the many wires into a single harness, making installation easier and durability more attainable. These harnesses need to be designed and engineered first to ensure the assembled product will function optimally. 

During the initial design phase, our engineers have numerous conversations with our clients to ensure we understand the specific wire harness application. Is this design going into a toy airplane or a real airplane? The application makes a remarkable difference in design.

Logistics

Another reason automation cannot fully account for complex wire designs is that logistics have to be considered for production and distribution. An automated system may not be able to alter designs to better utilize available materials, but an experienced cable design company like Meridian can adjust to the unexpected, minimizing distribution delays.

Specific Standards

Finally, wire harness design and manufacturing should not be fully automated because custom wire harnesses are required to meet the variety of projects and standards needed across various industries. For instance, the standards for a medical application may differ widely from a military (MILSPEC) or telecommunications application. Industrial controls include bottling plants and municipal utility systems, and these both have unique wiring specifications. Our wire harness engineers must custom design a wire harness to meet the needs of an automotive manufacturer versus an alternative energy facility.

Most modern wire harness manufacturers will utilize some automation, but engineering and expertise are required, with rigorous testing standards, to ensure the highest quality of wire harnesses is produced. Meridian Cable has a full complement of equipment to process wire harnesses, from basic hand tools to semi-automatic machines.

Why Do Some Companies Fully Automate Wire Harness Design and Processing?

One research paper from Siemens Digital revealed 10 different reasons for fully-automated complex wire harness design. They propose that fully automated wire harness design offers the following benefits:

  1. Automated harness engineering and validation.
  2. Subassemblies to streamline production design.
  3. Controlled, automated change management.
  4. Digital continuity design through production.
  5. Full-scale formboard layout and fixtures.
  6. Effective formboard utilization.
  7. Factory modeling and bill-of-process generation.
  8. Time and cost calculations to increase assembly process efficiency.
  9. Balance tasks across a hardness production line.
  10. Ready-to-use work instructions for every stage of assembly.

Basically, these benefits proposed by Siemens can be summarized into three claims about fully automating wire harness design.

  1.  They claim fully automated design is faster and cheaper.

This may be true initially, but cutting down on design cost only helps on the front end. Over the wire harnesses life cycle, design flaws may prove costly. Engineering and careful product testing ensures the life-time costs will be more economic than a cheaply designed product.

  1. Improve product and process quality.

This seems doubtful at best. As the old saying goes, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Fully automated wire harness processing may be more cost effective, but it hardly guarantees better quality. Engineering and expertise deliver better quality products over full automation.

  1. Reduce harness manufacturing turnaround time and cost.

This may be true at the beginning. Fully automated manufacturing can produce wire harnesses quicker and for less money, but at what long-term cost? Another old saying merits citing: you get what you pay for. Rather than sacrifice quality to save a little time and money on the front end, the wise approach is to select a wire harness designer and manufacturer that balances a cost-effective approach with engineering and expertise.

What Aspects of Wire Harness Assembly Can be Automated?

Some aspects of wire harness assembly can be automated without sacrificing quality and durability. For instance, specialized machines cut and strip the ends of wires and then can crimp the terminals on the wire ends. Some soldering can also be successfully automated without degrading the wire harness’ quality. It should be noted that the more aspects of wire harness design that are automated, the more the need for rigorous quality testing.

What Aspects of Wire Harness Assembly Should Not be Automated?

The initial engineering process may be aided by computer drafting software, but should not be fully automated. This ensures the design matches the project. Meridian has become a field expert in custom solutions. More than 70 percent of the products we produce, we design. 

In addition to the initial design phase, the final testing phase should also not be fully automated. This complex stage of design iterations requires experience and expertise to ensure the highest quality wire harnesses. 

Additional manufacturing processes should not be automated, including:

  • Incorporating wires of different lengths into a single wire harness.
  • Performing multiple crimps on a single wire.
  • Binding together a variety of components with a variety of bonding materials such as clamps, ties, and tape.
  • Carrying wires through sleeves or exterior sheathing.
  • Properly bonding branch out points with tape.

Using the right tool for the right job matters. Meridian Cable has over 5,000 existing tools available in our tool crib, and we know how and when to use these tools. The wide variety of project applications requires the right tool for the right job in manufacturing complex wire harnesses. Our team brings both the tools and the expertise needed to get the job done right.

What are Some of the Design Features of Wire Harnesses?

Design features for wire harnesses include conductor sizes, conductor colors, stranding sizes, conductor insulation materials, and UL® wire and cable standard sizes.

Conductor Sizes

You’ll see a wide range of available conductor sizes in order to meet the needs of the project. From 12 awg to 34 awg, there’s many different options for our engineers to utilize.

Conductor Colors

Colors are fully customizable per the project’s needs and requirements and can greatly aid in wire management.

Stranding Sizes

From 0.002” to 0.01”, our wire harness engineers can find the perfect stranding size to match the application.

Conductor Insulation Materials

The choices abound for insulation as well, allowing our design team to put together the best materials for the needs of the project. Common insulating materials include Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) and Polytetrafluoroethylene (Teflon®).

UL® Certified Cables and Wires

Utilizing UL® certified cables and wires helps our designers start with a safe, tested, and reliable product from the start.

Start Your Wire Harness Design Today

With this variety of design features, it is little wonder that Meridian Cable is committed to hands-on engineering and manufacturing. We incorporate the best in semi-automated applications for manufacturing but remain personally invested in our products. 

Contacting Meridian means selecting a custom cable assembly or wire harness assembly team to deliver cost-effective and high quality wiring. Let us help you strike the balance between cutting edge automation, and dependable quality and experience.