At Meridian, three decades working with custom cable assemblies and wiring harnesses has us speaking some serious cable assembly-lingo. For our customers that aren’t quite fluent in all the terms of the trade, we’ve developed what we consider to be a fairly exhaustive list of the more commonly used words and phrases from the wide world of custom cable assembly manufacturing. 

Cable Assembly Glossary

Amperage/current: a current is simply the flow of an electric charge within a system. Amperage is a measure of the flow of charges through a surface at a predetermined rate per second known as “coulombs”. The unit of measure for amperage is amperes or “amps”.

Annealed copper: copper that has been heat-treated to a certain temperature making it softer and less brittle so it can be bent without breaking. This allows the copper to be molded to the desired shape without creating cracks.

Assembly: a cable assembly starts with a cable, which is two or more insulated conductors that are wrapped together within the same jacket. The cable assembly groups different cables together and adds insulators, fillers, wraps, and jacket materials to produce a protected environment for the flow of power, signal, or data through today’s electronic systems. Assemblies can be fitted with a wide array of connectors and terminations to fit the intended application.  

AWG (American Wire Gauge): the common system in the US for measuring the size of copper wire.

Braided wire: is a woven shielding, usually made of copper, that is used to protect the cables, wires, and grounds in batteries and industrial control systems.

Break strength: the amount of tensile force a material can withstand, measured in units of force that are applied to a cross-section.

Cable fillers: fillers will be added to a cable to provide a variety of benefits. Fillers help to maintain the round shape of the cable which produces a uniform appearance and provides support. Fillers also prevent tangling, help expel any trapped air pockets, offer the ability to add strength or durability using different combinations of materials, and also reduce the amount of friction between cables, which increases the overall lifespan of the cable. Filler materials can be a variety of materials from basic cotton to Kevlar, depending on the application. 

Design: the design stage is when our engineers and design team utilize drafting programs and other tools to put together a model of components that solves the issue at hand, in both an efficient and durable manner. Prototyping allows concepts to be brought to life and tested for functionality, durability, and safety. Often the design will be tweaked several times through prototyping to find the best fit. Once this design is finalized, volume production can occur.

Dielectric constant: the ratio of electric permeability of a material relative to the electric permeability of a vacuum. Usually applied as a property of insulating material. 

Durometer: is the international standard for measuring the hardness of rubber, plastic, and most nonmetallic materials.

EMI: Electromagnetic interference (EMI), also referred to as radio-frequency interference (RFI), is when an external source disrupts or causes the cessation altogether of an electrical circuit. Many of Meridian’s cable systems need to have specialized shielding like aluminized Mylar in order to reduce the EMI to the system.

Extrusion: extrusion is the process where a cable assemblies’ cross-sections come together. Certain plastic material will be fed into a large hopper located above the extruder machine. The extruder looks something like a large screw and has a barrel that’s heated so it can mix, melt, and finally pump the material into the required die.

Flame rating: the susceptibility of a material to burning when a heat source is applied.  One common rating is the “UL 94 Classification”, which describes testing material to see if it burns at a rate that’s less than the predetermined maximum. This is important when our assemblies are being employed in high-heat environments.

Flexural strength: the amount of stress a material can take right before it yields in a flex test. Optimizing flexural requirements helps the assembly withstand being stretched, twisted, and extended and contracted many times over its lifespan. Engineering flexural strength is critical in military and industrial applications.

Gauge: as it pertains to wire, this is the measure of the wire’s diameter. Gauge determines how much current the wire can safely carry and is, therefore, a critical determination for our design staff.

Ground: a conductor, usually made of copper, that makes an electrical connection to the earth or another large enough body. This provides the return needed to have a completed electrical circuit.

Harness: wiring harnesses provide the physical support system for combining different wires in cables within a larger system like the electrical system of a car.

ISO 9001:2015: this is the professional certification for quality in product, processes, and commitment to the customer. Meridian is proud to have maintained ISO certification for almost two decades.

Jacket: cable jackets are the covering over insulation that can add flexibility, quick identification, elastic memory, chemical resistance, and resistance to heat or flame - all depending on which of the many different materials that’s used. Jacket material types will vary depending on the intended environment and application. 

KevlarⓇ: heat resistant, flexible, and incredibly strong, KevlarⓇ is a fiber that’s made synthetically. Meridian uses Kevlar often as a filler material when added strength, durability, and/or heat resistance is required within the cable.

Livewire news: Meridian has made a commitment to quality both in product and also customer satisfaction. One way we provide great service is by keeping ourselves abreast of changes in the industry and sharing this information on our website. Livewire News is a great resource for the latest trends, developments, and information stemming from the cable assembly and custom cable manufacturing industry.

mm² Gauge: mm² is the abbreviation for square millimeters, which is a unit of measure that’s used internationally. As we have customers all over the world, our design team has to be well-versed in both mm² and AWG specifications.

Modulus of elasticity: measurement of an object’s ability to resist being deformed elastically when stress gets applied.

Moisture resistance: critical in a cable assembly’s design, moisture resistance can be built into different components as added layers of protection within the system, including the cable’s insulators, shields, jackets, and/or over moldings.

Nonferrous: this is a metallic alloy which is free of iron or steel. Nonferrous metals are typically more costly to produce but have certain desirable qualities over ferrous metals such as lower weight, a higher range of conductivity, a low range of magnetism, and greater resistance to corrosion.

Overmolded: is the process of covering a component of the assembly in a form of plastic. Overmolding can increase protection, provide strain relief, can be used to increase flexure, or can be a containment mechanism for two pieces without having to use some other fastener. Overmolding greatly benefits assemblies intended to be used in harsh environments.

Prototyping: prototyping is a process where a limited number of different designs will be built to gauge the process. The process includes producing an iteration (or multiple iterations simultaneously) of a certain design, tweaking the design and production process based on noted deficiencies, and testing the end product for functionality, durability, and safety. Prototyping is almost always performed prior to volume production and helps to save both time and money within the overall project.

Quality Assurance: quality assurance is the practice of trying to prevent any issues in either the production/manufacturing stage or during the delivery process to clients. The keyword in the definition is prevent - QA attempts to optimize a process, helping to mitigate issues before they arise. Often paired with Quality Control, which is testing the actual products produced, a QAQC program is integral to ensuring our clients receive a consistent level of product quality with each and every unit they receive. At Meridian, we maintain our own testing lab which tests each product off our assembly line for functionality, durability, and safety. Meridian tests both mechanically, using automated Cirrus testers or an engineered test made especially for the custom product that was produced, and also under puts assemblies through real-world conditions like exposure to moisture or extreme heat/cold.

RFI: Radio Frequency Interference (RFI) occurs when an external source acts as an interference within an electrical circuit. RFI can cause the current to be degraded or even cease it altogether. RFIs can cause serious delays in industrial control systems when a wrong signal is picked up and a crucial function was not performed. Delays here will be costly. Because of the many issues that can arise, many cables require specialized shielding within this assembly to prevent RFI.

RoHS: stands for “Restriction of Hazardous Substances”, which restricts certain hazardous materials and products used in electrical systems.

Stranding: stranding is the process by which single conductor strands are joined together. A stranding machine takes strands of wire and rotates them around an axis to produce a strong yet flexible cross-section. Stranding adds strength and flexibility to the wire assembly and are typically used indoors when bending or twisting of the components is required.

Surface tension: cohesiveness of molecules that allows for a liquid’s surface film to resist an external force. This is what allows insects to “slide” on the surface of the water.

Terminal: the terminal points of a cable are where the cable ends and a connector is used to bridge the gap between cable and source/destination. Terminal points can be common failure points in an assembly so usually additional strain relief, such as transition points, are engineered into the assembly.

Texture (gloss v. matte, in general): texture applies to a cable’s appearance. The finishes of a cable can come in a variety of different styles including matte or glossy, depending on the requirements of the project. For example, matte finishes can sometimes make a cable easier to grip, which can be a requirement of the installation or handling of the cable within certain conditions.

Tinned copper: tin is used to coat a wire to help protect against corrosion, especially when the wire is to be used in a wet environment.

UL certified: Underwriters Laboratories (UL) approved by the US Government to act as an independent product and processes tester. A product that meets safety, structure, and functionality requirements can become UL-certified. UL-certification is an industry-wide recognition of quality. 

Voltage: is the force that makes electrical charges move within a wire or conductor. 

Wire: a wire is a single strand of a conductive material. A group of wires that are twisted together and insulated graduate to being a full-fledged cable.

X: cable assembly manufacturers will mark the jacket during production with a common lettering system indicating specific design features. “X” usually indicates the wire jacket is made up of a thermoset material. Thermosets have a high heat tolerance, making them ideal to use in extreme heat environments.

Y Junctions: also called “cable breakouts” or “J” junctions, the y junctions mark the point where a conductor leaves the main cable.

Zip cord: two conductors wrapped in insulating jackets that are joined but can be easily separated by pulling them apart. A good example is a wired headphone cord.

There are many more components that go into the average cable assembly than those listed here. After almost 30 years in business, we have amassed over 5,000 existing tools for connectors, junctions, overmolds, and housings for cable assemblies that allows are engineers and design staff to efficiently create the perfect set-up to meet the project’s needs, stay within budget, and meet all scheduling milestones. With wholly owned and operated, UL-approved facilities located in the US and in China, we have the distribution network in place that quickly get products wherever clients need them to go, around the world. Start talking project specs with a knowledgeable sales representative today.