Is a Wire Harness Different from an Electrical Harness?

Wire Harnesses

Ah, the age-old question. The quick answer is no, there is no difference between a wire harness and an electrical harness. Wire harnesses and cable assemblies themselves are often used interchangeably but these two components each play their own critical part in the overall system. 

In today’s LiveWire deep dive, we’ll highlight the humble wire harness however you refer to it to see just how intense the engineering can be behind these workhorses that make today’s ultra-complex technology possible.

Wire Harness, Cable Harness, Wiring Harness – What’s the Difference?

No matter what name you call it by, the wire harness is the infrastructure behind some of mankind’s most technologically advanced machines in the modern age. A wire harness is made up of various components that support, protect, and simplify electrical design within a wide variety of industries. Meridian produces wire harnesses for industrial control systems and the military, for cutting edge medical units, automotive assemblies, telecommunications, and so much more. 

From fighter jets to sports cars, wiring harnesses are almost literally the glue that holds everything together. However, if you ask the average buyer what’s the difference between a wire harness and a cable harness assembly, they may be hard pressed to answer. 

That’s because cable assembly and wire harness are so often used interchangeably that they have spawned all manner of different name combinations that are still incorrectly referring to different things. While there is no difference between a wire harness and an electrical harness, a cable assembly and a wire harness are two distinct engineering marvels. 

So, What is a Wire Harness Exactly?

The wire harness itself is an engineered grouping of cable assemblies typically constructed with some form of insulative or other protective material. A cable assembly is used to transmit data, power, or signal through its system and a wire harness facilitates this functionality with various support structures. 

Whether it’s cable straps and ties, Kevlar sleeving, specialized mylar tape, or an endless variety of other combinations, the wire harness is what simplifies the integration of cable assemblies into the large system. The term “plug and play” comes to mind with the ease of integration that one can think of with a well-designed and manufactured wire harness. However, there should be noted that there is a huge difference between an off-the-shelf assembly and one that has been custom designed to meet the challenges of the application. While a cable assembly can be as simple as a male to male coax cable, a wire harness can integrate multiple breakouts with different cable assemblies, conductors, terminations, and connections all in one complex system. 

It is this multifaceted usefulness that allows Meridian’s top cable engineers the ability to construct the custom wire harnesses used in everything from medical diagnostic equipment to communications infrastructure.

The Many Benefits of Using a Custom Wire Harness 

Ease of Integration

The typical car, truck, van, or SUV is going to have many feet of cables in order to connect all of the important components. The custom wire harness is one that has been specifically made to OEM standards in order to easily integrate into the vehicle either during manufacturing or when repairs are necessary. As you might expect, each manufacturer has its own specifications for exactly how each component should fit within the system. With high standards, automotive manufacturers and OEMs look for a specialized custom cable and wire harness manufacturers that have proven capability in this field. With Meridian’s IATF 16949 certification, our team has demonstrated we have the knowledge, skills, abilities, and commitment to the quality required in the automotive sector. 

Built to Spec

The automotive sector is only one industry where ease of integration is a major benefit of custom wire harnesses. Advanced medical equipment that have special concerns like bio-medical jacks and strain reliefs all require specific engineering to meet the demands of the application. That’s where a custom cable harness helps provide the stout engineering needed to meet the needs of each individual project. Take for instance MILSPEC cable and wire harnesses. These have to meet strict DOD guidelines for quality and exact specifications in order to both be integrated easily into a military system, but also to be able to withstand some of the harshest conditions imaginable. 

Perfectly Suited for the Environment

A custom wire harness provides protection against excessive vibrations, moisture, dust, humidity, caustic chemicals, temperature, and a wide range of additional variables. A custom component has also been engineered just for the space it’s going in, which means consideration for size optimization. 

How Our Team Designs a Complex Wire Harness 

The very first part of a custom wire harness design is looking at the requirements of the client. That means our engineers are busy calculating geometric, as well as, electric components to meet the needs of the project. The design is established in a virtual computer aided design (CAD) 3D system that allows the engineer a chance to build and test different components under different scenarios all before a physical assembly board is ever even utilized. 

Once the engineer finalizes the design that works best based on the models, we’ll usually move forward with a schematic that tells our skilled manufacturing team where everything goes on the assembly board for the wire harness. At Meridian, we design more than 70 percent of the assemblies and harnesses we produce which really makes us a design firm that happens to produce some of the best assemblies available today.

The assembly board provides a life-sized mapping of the entire harness assembly and each individual component of the overall design. With everything ready to begin manufacturing, our team can move forward in the production process. 

Manufacturing the Most Advanced Wire Harnesses on the Planet

Every wire in a wire harness starts out as a single strand of a conductor, usually copper. At Meridian, we extrude our own wires and can get them incredibly small and incredibly exact, depending on the needs of the project. Wires are cut to length and all labeled according to a master plan provided by our engineers. Wire management is a crucial component to any cable manufacturer’s repertoire and another benefit to using an experienced team of the best in the business. Conductors can be fitted with whatever connector or terminals are required because we have such a massive tool crib to tap throughout the process. 

Even better, if we don’t have the tooling required for a really custom job, we have the advanced machinery to make, test, and retest the component on the spot. Better still, we are a UL-approved manufacturing facility so we can even help get a harness certified through various agencies when that’s what our clients need. 

Are Wire Harnesses Assembled Manually?

Yes, even with the incredibly sophisticated machines we have at our disposal, a lot of the wiring harness assembly process is done manually by very skilled hands. There are a great many different processes throughout the process that benefit from semi-automation or even fully-automated processes, but there is still quite a bit that is done by hand because it’s simply more efficient. 

Some of the processes done by hand include:

  • Incorporating a terminated wire or wires that are different lengths into the assembly board.
  • Make sure the cable assemblies are appropriately placed through sleeves and/or conduits.
  • Ensuring cable breakouts are appropriately taped and marked. 
  • Manually crimping where required.
  • Installing various binding methods such as cable ties throughout the system.

When it’s a small batch such as for testing or prototyping, the hands-on process can really pay off with efficiency and quality; however, as we mentioned above we’ll use automation wherever it saves time and money in the process.

A sampling of different processes we can automate include:

  • Utilizing our fully automated crimping machine like the AMP crimping press.
  • Making automatic or manual soldering with our Quick 376D solder station.
  • Using our KAMsnaps press machines for two-part snaps.

We have hundreds of machines like the ones above and continually invest in new technology that allows the process to be that much better with each and every run. It’s this level of quality that separates off the shelf from truly custom manufacturers.

Meridian is Your Source for Custom Wire Harnesses 

When it comes to quality, it pays to be a little persnickety. Our team is able to maintain our ISO 9001:2015 and IATF 16949 certifications because we have a verifiable quality control system in place that truly governs everything we do. With continuous process improvement, we’re always seeking to do that much better. That includes everything from a customer’s first interaction to prototyping different wire harnesses and solving even the most complex issues for our clients. No matter the challenge, our experienced team has the state-of-the-art equipment and facilities to adapt and overcome. 

Whether you need a small batch for certification or require volume manufacturing, Meridian has stood as a leader in custom cable assemblies and wire harnesses for decades. Contact our team now to start reviewing your project specs and get started.