Category Archives: Cable Assemblies

The Ultimate Guide to Wire Gauge Sizes | Learn What Gauges Are Used For Custom Wire Harness Applications

Different kinds of cables are on wooden pallet.

Wire gauges help determine the effectiveness, as well as the costs of the overall design. That’s why our designers take such care when designing custom wiring harnesses to incorporate the perfect gauges to meet the needs of the project. 

In today’s LiveWire spotlight, we’ll showcase a complete wire gauge guide focused on topics like wire gauge sizes, how to measure wire gauge, and how to choose the right wire gauge in custom cabling applications.

Wire Gauges Explained

First up, what does gauge mean in wire harness design? Wires are produced in a wide variety of widths in order to meet the needs of the project. The diameter of a wire is expressed in a unit known as a gauge, as set by the American Wire Gauge (AWG). The AWG sets corresponding numbers to different diameters of wire gauge. 

Contrary to what you might think, the lower AWG numbers actually correspond to wires with higher diameters and the larger numbers in the AWG wire gauge size chart correspond to smaller diameters of wire. The AWG sets gauges in order to have a unifying system of measure with wires and conductors. It’s important to note that the AWG applies to round, solid, and non-ferrous wires. Non-ferrous metals, like aluminum and copper, make excellent conductors.

Wire diameter is critical in custom wire harness design as it helps to determine how much of an electrical load and the level of resistance, expressed in ohms (Ω). This standardization helps our wire engineers start with materials with known electrical properties to provide the most effective designs possible. In the custom cable manufacturing industry, exactness matters which is why even the smallest degree of error needs to be corrected in a design before ever moving forward with production.  

How to Measure Wire Gauge

To answer questions like, “how thick is 4 gauge wire?”, you need to understand how the AWG wire gauge system works. As we discussed, the larger gauge numbers expressed in an AWG size chart correspond to lower wire diameters and smaller gauge numbers mean larger diameters. 

Before the AWG, different manufacturers had their own unique sizes and systems, making any form of standardization difficult. However, the AWG isn’t the only gauge measurement around with most of the world relying on a metric-based system for gauge measure. For the purpose of this wire gauge guide, we’ll stick with the AWG.

The Formula for Wire Gauge Sizes

Looking at an AWG wire gauge chart, you’ll see 0000 on up to 36 and beyond. A 36 AWG wire is going to be .005 inches while a 0000 AWG is .46 inches. The ratio between these matters is exactly 1 to 92. With 40 different gauge sizes between 0000 and 36, there’s a consistent geometric step with each successive AWG number. 

This is important because it helps to qualify a constant multiple from which the entire system is based. For example, with every 6 gauge of decrease, you’ll get a doubling of the wire’s diameter. Conversely, a 3 gauge decrease doubles the wire’s cross-sectional area. 

Wire Gauge Diameter

The actual formula for figuring out the diameter of wire gauge is a little complicated but one our engineers use in our designs every day to find the perfect wire to match the application. Diameters are calculated with this formula – D(AWG) = 0.005·92((36-AWG)/39) inch. 

For those that want to dig more into the technical side of electronic formulas like this, we recommend a mainstay in the industry known as the “Handbook of Electronics Tables and Formulas” by Howard Sams. 

Wire Resistance & Wire Length

AWG helps to provide consistency to resistance and wire length as well since different gauges will have known levels. The larger a wire’s circumference is, the less resistance the signal or current will have. A very small gauge wire might not be able to handle a given electrical load, which could prove dangerous and even cause a fire. Wire gauges have to be exact in order to create the ideal resistance level in a given custom wire and cable harness. 

Another important consideration is the length of the wire. With longer wires, the signal or current has to simply travel further before reaching a termination. Longer distances lead to more resistance which can degrade the signal. A larger gauge wire can help to make sure that the signal or current is able to travel these long distances without becoming too degraded. In our AWG size chart, you’ll see this expressed as a measure of ohms per 1,000 feet.

You might simply think you should always just use a larger gauge wire and be done but this blanket approach can prove inefficient, especially from a materials-cost perspective. As a custom cable manufacturer, we examine all of the nuances of a design in order to produce the best utilization of our client’s budget, given the parameters of the intended application. This level of sophistication is what truly sets apart working with a custom manufacturer over relying on off-the-shelf cable assemblies.

Wire Gauge Chart

The standardization for diameters and cross-sectional areas presented as AWG sizes is continued to be maintained by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). The ASTM is actually an international organization that helps to develop consensus across industries for a wide range of technical applications. 

When it comes to the source for an AWG wire gauge chart, the ASTM is the best place to start. For the most up-to-date wire gauge chart see ASTM B258 – 18 Standard Specification for Standard Nominal Diameters and Cross-Sectional Areas of AWG Sizes of Solid Round Wires Used as Electrical Conductors. This publication specifies diameters, areas, equations, and rules for calculating AWG sizes. Length of the wire, resistance (Ω), and rated strengths are all required for standardization, as well. As you can imagine, global standardization is difficult and requires developing a complete methodology for the process.

The following wire gauge chart was adapted from an American Wire Gauge reference article published by Boston University:

AWG gaugeDiameter InchesDiameter mmOhms per 1000 ftOhms per kmMax amps for chassis wiringMax amps for power transmission
OOOO0.460011.68400.04900.160720380302
OOO0.409610.403840.06180.202704328239
OO0.36489.265920.07790.255512283190
00.32498.252460.09830.322424245150
10.28937.348220.12390.406392211119
20.25766.543040.15630.51266418194
30.22945.826760.19700.64616015875
40.20435.189220.24850.81508013560
50.18194.620260.31331.02762411847
60.16204.114800.39511.29592810137
70.14433.665220.49821.6340968930
80.12853.263900.62822.0604967324
90.11442.905760.79212.5980886419
100.10192.588260.99893.2763925515
110.09072.303781.26004.1328004712
120.08082.052321.58805.208640419.3
130.07201.828802.00306.569840357.4
140.06411.628142.52508.282000325.9
150.05711.450343.184010.44352284.7
160.05081.290324.016013.17248223.7
170.04531.150625.064016.60992192.9
180.04031.023626.385020.94280162.3
190.03590.911868.051026.40728141.8
200.03200.8128010.15033.29200111.5
210.02850.7239012.80041.9840091.2
220.02540.6451616.14052.9392070.92
230.02260.5740420.3666.780804.70.729
240.02010.5105425.6784.197603.50.577
250.01790.4546632.37106.17362.70.457
260.01590.4038640.81133.85682.20.361
270.01420.3606851.47168.82161.70.288
280.01260.3200464.9212.87201.40.226
290.01130.2870281.83268.40241.20.182
300.01000.254103.2338.49600.860.142
310.00890.22606130.1426.72800.7000.1130
320.00800.2032164.1538.24800.5300.0910
330.007100.18034206.9678.63200.4300.0720
340.006300.16002260.9855.75200.3300.0560
350.005600.14224329.01079.1200.2700.0440
360.005000.12700414.813600.2100.0350

You’ll see in the above chart that amps are listed with each gauge. This is the capacity level that each wire gauge is able to safely handle. Looking at lower gauges and remembering these correspond to thicker wires, you’ll notice that they have higher maximum amp ratings.  

Common Applications of Standard Wire Gauges

Wire gauges will each have their own electrical properties which makes them each perfect for their own unique applications. Higher gauges are great for lighter-duty electrical work, while lower gauges are reserved for more heavy-duty projects. 

The most common gauges of wire out there are 10, 12, and 14 as these are used in building and construction applications. As we’ve seen, when projects require a wire to go a longer distance, the gauge of wire needs to be bumped up in order to compensate and allow electricity and/or signal to pass through it. 

A few of the more common applications with AWG sizes include:

  • 14 Gauge Wire: this is very common in residential wiring applications such as with light fixtures, devices, and household outlets. 
  • 12 Gauge Wire: this is also common for residential wiring to be used for outlets, small appliances, and even smaller air conditioning units.
  • 10 Gauge Wire: 10 gauge is starting to get into larger household appliances such as window air conditioning units, water heaters, and your clothes dryer. 
  • 8 Gauge Wire: this is for larger household appliances such as electric ranges, ovens, and your home’s air conditioning system.
  • 6 Gauge Wire: this is going to be for the largest household appliances and air conditioning units.

Even within a consideration like wire gauges, we see that there is a tremendous level of exactness required from a cable harness design team in order to find the best application. Selecting the best gauge wire for the application takes a lot of careful measurements and considerations during the design phase. Our cable engineers work to find the most efficient means to produce a given assembly within the specifications provided by the client.

Choosing the Perfect Wire Guage

The two most important questions you need to know in your project are wire gauge and wire length. This is determined by looking at what carrying capacity and the level of current, expressed in amps. As we’ve discussed wire gauge is listed based on how the maximum amount of amps that can run through it. Last up is the distance as this is crucial for gauges. You’ll be able to effectively counteract the drop in voltage by increasing the wire gauge, which can handle more amps. 

Getting the Best Design with the Correct Wire Gauge

Working with our client’s unique specifications, the Meridian team is able to consistently exceed our client’s expectations when it comes to delivering the perfect solution for even the most complex issues. Contact our team today to start reviewing your project and to see where utilizing a custom cable manufacturer can benefit your project.

The Benefits of Low Pressure Molding in Wire Assembly

low pressure molding machine

One of the best methods custom cable manufacturers have for effectively protecting the many components composing cable assemblies is a process known as low-pressure molding. With investments in state-of-the-art machines like our Low Pressure Molding Machine, the LPMS Beta 300, Meridian is able to produce incredibly strong, custom assemblies that are perfectly suited for their intended applications. 

In today’s LiveWire deep dive, we’ll explore the many benefits of low pressure molding in cable and wire assemblies and how you can best utilize this method in your next production run.

What is Low-Pressure Molding?

If you’re sitting at your computer and reading this, right now your PC is using cable assemblies, connectors, terminals, and more to make that action possible. Across from you may be a printer, your cell phone sitting next to you, and outside is your car which may have got you to work this morning. All of these machines require complex cable assembly and wire harness engineering in order to function. 

Yet, each contains parts that can easily fail if they aren’t engineered with additional layers of protection. Abrasion, bending, water, heat, cold—all of these variables require a keen design that mitigates against the forces of nature constantly bombarding your electronics’ sensitive components. Enter low-pressure molding.

Low-pressure molding, also referred to as “hot-melt molding”, is a method of manufacturing that takes the best of two processes in injection molding and casting. Low-pressure molding is ideal for use in sealing custom cable assemblies, while also serving to provide strain relief. By completely surrounding the components, low-pressure molding provides a reliable protection against external forces.

A Closer Look at the Low-Pressure Molding Process

low pressure molding button

Whenever you use injection molding, you’re typically using a type of thermoplastic (basically a material that gets soft when heated and hard when cooled) that gets heated up and injected into a mold at-pressure. This process is great for volume manufacturing and often doesn’t actually create a permanent bond with the underlying material. 

Conversely, low pressure molding does create a permanent bond with the components it’s covering. Let’s look at the process:

  1. Using a hot-melt such as polyamide adhesive, we heat these granular pieces to somewhere between 350 degrees and 460 degrees Fahrenheit. The polyamide adhesive doesn’t really melt per-se, but rather just gets soft. When it’s at the right softness and viscosity, it’s ready for injection molding. These pellets are softened within an integrated melt tank directly on our LPMS Beta 300.
  1. Whatever wire assembly component is getting sealed gets placed into custom molds to be covered by the adhesives. Inside the Beta 300, gears are used to make a pressurized force through which the softened material goes through a heated hose and finally into the injection heads themselves. The Beta 300 utilizes a horizontal-injection system with a single-injection gun for maximum efficiency. Once the material is injected, the component becomes completely encased with a physical bonding of materials.
  1. The actual pressure used in the injection molding for these types of adhesives is far lower than your typical injection molding process. Hitting on the high side of 500 psi is much lower than the 15,000 psi for the upper reaches of injection molding. This gentler approach is ideal for extra-sensitive components such as with medical device technology. As well, the Beta 300 has two thermal zones which means our skilled operators have more control than ever before for precision melting temperatures.
  1. The materials will then cool down quickly, typically in under a minute. The component is then 100% ready to remove and use as desired.

And there you have it, the low pressure molding process in a nutshell. With the capabilities our LPMS Beta 300 provides, we’re able to create the perfect set up for even the most customized wire assemblies our clients need developed. This capability and our expertise is what’s helped set our services apart in custom cable manufacturing.

Benefits of Using Low Pressure Molding in Wire Assemblies

When utilizing a hot-melt polyamide adhesive, you’re starting with a compound that’s solid at room temperature. These are safely developed using renewable resources. Because any scrap material is reusable, these are also incredibly sustainable. 

These types of adhesive are also very safe, without toxic gasses being released into the atmosphere during a manufacturing run. Being both non-toxic, as well as able to be recycled, makes these materials a great choice for green initiatives, such as LEED electrical designs in sustainable buildings. Polyamides also offer greater levels of protection and can be used as an insulating material. 

Because they form an actual bond with the underlying components, the seal is highly resistant to water, dust, chemicals, and other environmental factors. This makes them ideal for extreme hot and cold environments, or where abrasion resistance is required. They even work well when they need to be printed on. 

Finally, while the initial material may cost a bit more than injection molding, there are many cost-savings measures along the manufacturing process that make this a very economical method. For example, molds used in injection molding have to be super heavy duty steel which are quite expensive. With low pressure molding, we can typically utilize lower-priced aluminum molds, or even 3D printed materials which is great for prototyping different iterations. The aluminum also removes heat faster after the process is complete which lowers the overall cycle time. Because heat distortion is also mitigated, you have less loss which means more efficient production runs.

Inside the Design Studio for Low Pressure Molding Applications

You might think that the molds, connectors, terminations, and other tools we use every day are easily-available. But the fact is, most of these are custom designs that we tweak to each individual product. In fact, after decades as leaders in custom cable manufacturing, we have amassed a tooling inventory of well over 5,000 different components at our disposal for a given project. 

Molds are one such tool in our arsenal that require careful design consideration, testing, and even prototyping to make sure we have everything right. We work with some of the best mold manufacturers in the world in order to create the products that help our men and women in the military, power high-tech telecommunications equipment, and a hundred and one other applications. We also have the ability to 3D print mold inserts for low-volume production runs or when the final design needs to be tweaked by successive iterations of tooling.

The low pressure molding sets are made so that the components can be removed efficiently after manufacture, without damaging any of the sensitive components. This requires very advanced engineering that allows the perfect amount of air and heat out, while still being able to be processed quickly. Components are centered within each mold and injected to be set. 

Areas Where Low Pressure Molding Can Be Advantageous

Whenever a fast cycle time is required, and we are seeking to improve the reliability of the data, signal, or power being transmitted within the system, low pressure molding is a fantastic addition to the overall design. That’s not to say, however, that all problems are solved with low pressure molding, but within specific applications our engineers utilize this process to bring about the most advantageous results for our client’s projects.

When looking at connectors, the low pressure molding materials can act as a great overmold for the connector, as well as the cable assembly. This provides advanced protection against water intrusion and other environmental factors. As well, the strain relief provided is another huge benefit. Overall, even the aesthetics of the design are improved with a streamlined component. Low pressure molding is even more reliable than heat shrinking tubing since a physical bond is made.

Other sensitive applications are able to employ low pressure molding to create a very effective overmold, without harming the underlying components. We often use this method when circuit boards or fragile electronic components need to be overmolded. This can also save money by not having to use all of the support elements such as housings and junction boxes, since the overmold performs this function. 

In wire harnesses, low pressure molding can be utilized with various components such as bushings. These low-pressure molded bushings will both hold the cable assemblies in place but also provide necessary strain relief. Low pressure molding bushings are able to provide a better grip on the components that need to stay in place and can be put together relatively quickly to make even the most complicated wire harnesses a better-managed system. That’s because these types of bushings are actually manufactured in place rather than having to be put on to an existing harness. The connections become waterproof powerhouses, ready to provide protection for the cables beneath.

Ready to See How Low Pressure Molding Can Benefit Your Project?

At Meridian, we specialize in the design and production of some of the most customized cable assemblies available today. To do this requires our team to have the best tools and talent available. With the capability of machines like the LPMS Beta 300 making low pressure molding a resource available when needed, our designers can create the best product possible to meet the needs of the project. Contact our team now to go over your project’s specs and to see if low pressure molding might be a useful addition to your overall design.

The Cable Engineer’s Ultimate Heat Shrinking Tubing and Sleeves Guide

Colors of Heat-shrink tube in the factory

Heat shrinking tubing, aka heat shrink sleeves, are a simple, yet effective, means for providing a range of benefits that increase the useful lifespan of a given cable assembly. Made with various materials to fit the environment, heat shrinking tubing is a fantastic way to “beef up” assemblies.

In today’s LiveWire spotlight, we’re highlighting what makes these humble components so vital to a well-protected cable assembly and how adding them into your design can greatly increase the stoutness of the overall design.

Heat Shrink Tubing 101

In cable assembly manufacturer parlance, heat shrink tubing is a tube that can be made from any number of different materials which wraps over a wire, connector, joint, or terminal to provide more protection. The addition of heat shrinking tubing is meant to provide an additional shield against environmental variables and other physical forces. Moisture-resistance, abrasion-resistance, and increased insulation are all ancillary benefits of heat shrinking cable assemblies. 

Heat shrinking sleeves work like this—the chosen material of a particular size, type, and thickness is inserted over a given component and then heat is applied to literally shrink the tube onto firm contact with the components beneath. The process of heat-shrinking creates an excellent seal and a tough outer shell for whatever element needs the added protection heat shrinking tubing provides. 

Benefits of Using Heat Shrink Tubing and Sleeves in Cable Assemblies

A heat shrink tubing addition into your cable assembly design can be an absolute life-saver with the added protection provided. But these handy tools also bring about many other benefits to your overall cable assembly which produce value far and above the initial cost of utilizing them in your next cable assembly.

Heat Shrink Tubing Provides Additional Protection from Outside Forces

Hands down, the best usefulness for adding heat shrinking tubing to a cable assembly is to help protect the sensitive components from all the environmental variables that can degrade the transmission of data, power, or signal. 

The heat shrinking tubing acts as an additional barrier to abrasions while also mitigating against liquids, humidity, and temperature swings. Depending on the material used in the heat shrink sleeves, the tubing can help the assembly’s components withstand extremely harsh environments, making it ideal for applications like aerospace and the military.

Heat Shrinking Tubing Provides Additional Insulation for Wires

Insulation plays a crucial role for protecting the conductors within the cables themselves. As above, different environmental factors like moisture, dust, temperature swings, acids and oils, and a host of other factors all need to be safeguarded against. 

Our cable engineers take into account the application of the cable assembly to provide our clients with a design that is perfectly suited. Heat shrinking tubing provides an additional layer of insulation that helps maintain the integrity of the data, power, and/or signal that needs to be transmitted.

Heat Shrinking Provides Additional Strain Relief

An important element in any custom cable assembly is strain relief. One of the most important applications we’ve helped provide this for is within the medical field, where complex devices required extremely specific strain relief computations in order to provide a working unit. By utilizing additional means for strain relief such as with heat shrinking, our engineers are able to produce a clever solution to even the most complex issues facing our clients. 

Strain occurs because the cables need to stretch and bend, often within confined environments. The tension can lead to premature wear, which can ultimately result in a failure of the system. Heat shrinking helps to reduce this stress by providing a mechanism for mechanical support.

Heat Shrink Sleeves Aid in Cable Cord Management

When you have a set of cables that are poorly managed, integration and maintenance can be a nightmare. Heat shrink sleeves help to bundle coordinated groups of cables together within a single, confined space. This provides a much cleaner finished product, as well as helps to serve as an effective wire management strategy.

What Is Heat Shrinking Tubing Made Out Of?

The material chosen for a heat shrinking tube in a cable assembly design is dependent on the needs of the project. Each material brings its own pros and cons, which our cable engineers carefully consider and weigh against the needs of the project.

Common materials used in heat shrinking tubing include the following and more:

  • Polyolefin: this is one of the most prevalent materials used in heat shrinking tubing because it is extremely flexible, durable, shrinks quickly, and has built-in fire and UV resistance. Polyolefin heat shrinking also provides great protection and insulation properties.
  • Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC): another great option for heat shrinking tubing is PVC. That’s because PVC is very affordable yet still offers a solid level of protection. PVC is a very common material to use for its heat, moisture, and abrasion-resistant qualities.
  • Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE): commonly referred to as “Teflon®”, PTFE is a very strong and nonflammable synthetic resin compound. Known for its versatility, PTFE offers a high-performance material choice for mitigating against temperature swings, moisture, abrasion, and other variables. 
  • Fluorinated Ethylene Propylene (FEP): great for use with injection molding and extrusion, this variant of Teflon® is also a bit easier to work with. FEP also carries low-friction and reactivity properties, making it ideal for sensitive electrical components. 
  • Polyvinylidene Difluoride (PVDF): PVDF is a special form of plastic that’s able to be injected and molded with ease. This product has great heat-resistance and chemical resistance making it well suited for tough environments such as with the military and telecommunications industries.
  • Silicon: silicone rubber provides one of the best protections against temperature swings with an excellent thermal range. Silicone resists heat well and is also maneuverable and flexible, making it an ideal choice when spaces are tight. Silicone is also very easy to disinfect, which is why it’s often used in the medical field.

Believe it or not, there are even more types of materials that can be used for heat shrinking tubing. It really all depends on the application and the needs of the project. Once we’ve established the specifications, our cable engineers work to design a product that’s perfectly suited for the application. We’ll then test and retest the prototype within real-world conditions to make sure everything functions absolutely on-par with expectations.

Making the Perfect-Sized Heat Shrinking Tubing for Your Cable Assembly

The three most important measurements to watch for when choosing the right heat shrinking tube for a cable assembly include the inside diameter of the tube, the tube’s ratio for shrinking, and the overall length of the tube.

Determining the Inner Diameter of Heat Shrinking Tubing: 

When you’re looking at the diameter of the tube, we’re talking about the inside lining. To adequately cover the components that need protecting, you’ll need to consider the total area of the components. This is performed by giving enough allowance for the heat shrinking process, while also ensuring a tight seal.

Considering the Heat Shrinking Tubing’s Shrinkage Ratio:

There are many different common ratios out there for given materials used in heat shrinking tubing. Having UL-certified components from the get-go allows our cable engineers to work with products with known specifications and which have been tested for quality. With a heat shrinking ratio that says, for example, 2 to 1, you’re looking at a tube that’s going to shrink down to 50% of its starting size. Different-sized components such as a connector versus a stranded wire, are going to have different needs for adequate coverage. 

Choosing the Right Length & Thickness Heat Shrinking Tubing:

You also need to remember that the length of the tubing, as well as the thickness will be moving variables as the heat shrinking takes place. The length of the tubing can be reduced by almost 10% with some materials, meaning you should always have a greater length than what’s getting protected. Conversely, with heat shrinking tube thickness, you’re actually increasing the thickness of the tubing as it gets smaller. 

These variables require careful consideration during the design phase, and will be tested for durability, continuity, and functionality during the testing and/or prototyping phases.

How to Ensure Quality with Heat Shrinking Tubing

The best way to ensure quality with heat shrinking tubing is to go with a reputable manufacturer who has credentials from UL and ISO. We’re honored to hold certifications as a UL-approved manufacturing facility, as well as to maintain our ISO 9001:2015 certification for our persistent obsession with quality in every facet of the manufacturing process. When quality meets experience and capability, the result is a far superior product for our client and the end user.

Adding Heat Shrinking On Your Custom Cable Assembly 

At Meridian, decades as leaders in custom cable assembly has helped us build a large collection of custom tools and equipment in order to produce the one-of-a-kind products our clients know they can depend on. 

Ready to add heat shrinking tubing to your design specs? Contact our team now and we’ll help to review all the considerations for your unique design. 

Advantages of Having a Full Tooling Inventory in Cable Production and Assembly

Cable Assembly Manufacturer

When you make custom cable assemblies for a long time, you start amassing a pretty big tooling inventory to do a wide variety of jobs. In fact, Meridian has over 5,000 existing tools with the ability to create a custom tool whenever a project needs it. Connectors, overmolds, junctions, and more combine with automated, semi-automated, and even hand tools to create the perfect custom cable assemblies needed for technologies in high-demand industries. 

Center stage in today’s LiveWire News spotlight is the incredible advantage for using a manufacturer who has both a demonstrated capability, as well as a full tooling inventory, in order to provide the perfect custom cable assembly for the application at hand.

What is a Tooling Inventory?

In cable production, you have a complex series of processes that are all available for our cable engineers to utilize in order to create the perfect custom cable assembly for our clients’ needs. True, the processes will vary considerably based on what is being produced, but the tooling inventory of the manufacturer is easily the most advantageous asset to bringing about the greatest diversity in product design. 

With a tooling inventory amassed over decades, our engineers have a full and complete tooling inventory at their disposal to produce exactly what’s required by the project. 

Why Molds and Dies Are So Important in Custom Cable Assemblies

In order for our injection molding machines to have anything to inject molten plastic into, you have to first have the molds and dies set up. Overmolding is the process whereby a cable assemblies components are covered in plastic as a way to protect against wear and tear, as well as environmental factors. Overmolding also helps provide strain relief, cable breakouts, cable stops, and seals and glands. 

Having an inventory of well over 5,000 existing molds helps us be able to design a cable assembly that’s both extremely durable, as well as perfectly matched for its intended application. During overmolding, you can also use different colors mixed into the resin to help with identification and integration. Envisioning how the end-user will utilize our cable assemblies helps our designers create useful value-added considerations such as cable management. 

Machines That Make All the Difference in Cable Production

From fans and crimpers, to coiling machines and pallet jacks, the machines required to produce the highest-quality custom cable assemblies make all the difference. Combined with some of the brightest minds in the industry, our expansive machine and tooling inventory is an incredible advantage built over decades as a leader in custom cable manufacturing. 

A few of the many machines that help make even the most complex assemblies a reality include:

Molding Machines

Injection molding takes injecting molten plastic into its designated mold cavity. A plastic resin of choice is fed into a heated barrel, where it’s mixed and then injected into the mold cavity. You may not think it, but choosing the right materials for this process can make or break your custom cable assembly. Different materials we utilize with overmolding include PVC, TPE, TPV, and TPEE. High pressure molding also lends itself extremely well to both high and low production runs, making it ideal for a variety of applications. 

Opposite high pressure plastic injection molding, is low pressure injection molding. Machines like our Low Pressure Molding System (LPMS) Beta 300 provide the perfect compact horizontal injection needed within a relatively small footprint. This machine has an integrated melt tank and two precision thermal zones, making it incredibly precise with it comes to melt control.

Terminal Crimping Machines

Believe it or not, in custom cable assemblies noise level matters. That’s why incredibly advanced technologies like our Super Mute Terminal Crimping Machine are so vital to overall project success. With a built-in frequency converter, this machine can run at high speeds with low noise. The machine is also highly customizable, making it ideal for many different terminals. Like much of our equipment, this machine can run on both a manual mode and automatic mode. With varying speeds, crimping dies are able to be designed to precise requirements set by our cable engineers. 

When it comes to advanced wire terminations, the AMP Crimping Press is one of the best tools for the job. These precision instruments come with loads of features that help maintain even the strictest tolerances. Advancements include the ability to run manual, fully-automated, or a combination thereof. These machines are also being made to be quieter or safer than ever before, creating the best environment possible for our skilled technicians to create custom cable assemblies.

Solder, Curing, and Fastening Machines

Providing an automatic and manual way of soldering, our Quick 376D solder station is in a league by itself. This machine makes high frequency heating, rapid heating, and thermal recovery processes look easy. However, with incredibly precise controls and temperature calibrations, we’re able to provide the perfect conditions to meet even the most demanding specifications. As well, a powerful motor with automatic feeding allows our operators complete control over how fast feeding speed and volume need to be for the given project. 

For applications requiring a light curing of adhesives and coatings, the Dymax Bluewave UV Curing Machine provides the perfect solution in both automated and manual production. Other tools like our KAMsnaps press machines for two-part snaps is a multi-functioned powerhouse for attaching both plastic and metal snaps. Having the right tools for the job like these is truly what provides the best finished product possible.

Cutter, Stripping, and Twister Machines

You can imagine during a high-speed production run the level of exactness required from our cutters, strippers, and twisting machines. With even the smallest misstep, an entire batch can be rendered useless. That’s why machines like our Komax Mira wire strippers are so crucial to pulling off custom cable assemblies. Pneumatic wire stripper and cutter machines are able to process large amounts of cables in short order and with incredible precision. 

Our twisters like the Eraser G10S Wire Twister are able to twist the ends of pre-stripped stranded wires or to tighten up an existing twisted wire. You might also need to twist an unwrapped shield onto a coaxial cable. Twister machines help provide the perfect twists per inch required by the design specifications.

Scales & Measurement Tools

Exact measurements are required throughout a custom cable assembly’s production run which is why we rely on automated counting and weight scales. Scales may seem like low-level technology, but our highly-complex measurement devices are tuned to be able to provide precise calculations. This level of detail is required for custom cable assemblies built from a single strand of copper wire onward. 

When even the smallest miscalculations can result in a cable assembly failing quality assurance tests for continuity, integrity, and/or safety, our scales and measurement tools are an absolutely critical component of our overall tooling inventory.

Moving Tools and Machines

Having all of the best tools and equipment in the world is useless if you don’t have a good means of moving materials and products just where they need to be throughout the production process. Just-in-Time (JIT) ordering is a way that we make our processes more efficient by getting just what’s needed, exactly when it’s needed so as to eliminate lag time. A crucial part of this operation is the fork trucks, pallet jacks, pneumatic carts, and even faithful hand dollies that move everything from A to B in a perfect synchrony throughout the production process. 

How We Bring it All Together During Production

One of the most important aspects of a production run is being able to reserve tools to be used. Having an extensive tool crib and tooling inventory requires having keen protocols in place for making sure everything is available and in place right as it’s needed. This is part of a Kanban manufacturing process that seeks to eliminate waste throughout the process. Focusing on being as efficient as possible and continually improving our processes is one aspect of maintaining our ISO 9001:2015 certification

During a production run, our project managers will reserve the right tools at the right time in order to complete the project in the most efficient means possible. This attention to detail has translated into being able to produce even the most exacting requirements for our customers. When our products are used in everything from cutting-edge medical devices to industrial control systems, our focus on quality in everything we do matters.

Starting Your Custom Cable Assembly Project Right

When you have a custom cable manufacturer with both the tools and the talent to accomplish just about any custom cable project, you’re able to have far more flexibility in finding the perfect solution to fit your unique set of circumstances. The team at Meridian prides ourselves on being a trusted resource for the highest quality custom cable assemblies available, a trait which has served us well for decades. Contact our team now to review your project specs and get started.

Reverse Engineer Your Existing Cable Assemblies

custom cable assembly manufacturer

Ever find an absolutely perfect cable assembly only to find out you can’t get it anymore because the item has been discontinued? Or perhaps you’ve seen a custom cable assembly in action elsewhere and would love to emulate something similar with your own set-up. However you’ve arrived at this situation, the good news is that there’s a solution to get you the same product perfectly matched to your desired specifications. 

Today’s LiveWire News spotlight will dive into the process of reverse engineering and how our cable engineers can use this approach to reproduce a perfect match of your existing cable assemblies.

What is Reverse Engineering?

Reverse engineering is the process of deconstructing another product piece by piece in order to reproduce that same product in exacting detail.  Reverse engineering can be applied to a wide array of industries—everything from aviation to auto parts and anywhere in between. That’s because reverse engineering is nothing new. 

As manufacturers have come to rely on large pieces of machinery in order to produce a given product, a lot of capital is required in order to get the right machines in place. As this equipment wears down, the original manufacturer may be long out of business or simply no longer producing replacement parts. The dilemma becomes do you throw out the entire piece of expensive machinery or can you reverse engineer a given component to keep the machine online. 

Cable assemblies are an integral part of an untold number of different systems. Telecommunications, military equipment, medical devices, and so many more all rely on cable assemblies in order to provide their function. When new parts are difficult, if not impossible, to source, reverse engineering provides an excellent solution. 

How Reverse Engineering Works

Reverse engineering is also referred to as “back engineering” because engineers are literally working backwards through the original manufacturing process to uncover the entire design. This may sound simple, but without the original methods used to construct each of the exacting details in something like a complex custom cable assembly, the process can be somewhat challenging. 

Understanding the Original Design

With cable assembly reverse engineering, our cable engineers take each piece of the original product apart in order to garner a better picture of the original method of design and manufacture. 

Meridian is all about quality in cable assemblies, designing and producing from the very first strand of wire onward to what can be incredibly complex systems. When we undertake a typical cable assembly design project, we start with the best components and build on each layer as required by our clients’ specifications. Reverse engineering is essentially this process in reverse. 

Keeping Legacy Systems in Operation

If a client has an older piece of electronics equipment, say being used in an industrial control system, over time functionality can be lost due to advancements in technology. Reverse engineering helps our team uncover how these systems functioned and what all is needed to make them current. This sort of bridgegap can be incredibly cost-saving over needing to go out and purchase a whole new piece of machinery. 

Sometimes, we may need to develop a new component simultaneously in order for the older systems to “talk” to newer systems. Reverse engineering can also be used to rediscover data or best practices that were used in the past but may have been lost over time. 

Recapturing Intellectual Property

In terms of proprietary information, this process can prove invaluable. Before the age of CAD drawings and cloud storage, good old paper blueprints were used. Through an untold number of different scenarios, these documents could be lost and along with them the proprietary knowledge built into the specific component. Reverse engineering can help uncover these along the way. The process itself can also help to create new designs that perfect an older, less efficient design or to make the assembly fit within an updated system.

Reverse Engineering on Existing Cable Assemblies

To reverse engineer a custom cable assembly, Meridian simply needs a sample or, in some cases, even just a picture of the part in order to see how it works. Seeing how the cable assembly was integrated within an electrical system provides a fairly good starting point for how the assembly was utilized. 

The cable assemblies reverse engineering process will definitely differ from assembly to assembly but, in general, we’re able to follow a few standard steps in the process including:

  • Start with dimensions. When you’re starting with a cable assembly that needs to be reverse engineered, it’s a good first step to start with careful measurements. You may have heard the adage in construction “measure twice, cut once”, well, this same approach can be said in a reverse engineering cable assembly project. 

Taking careful measurements and analysis, our engineers pour over all of the components of the assembly like connectors, terminations, wire lengths, types, and a thousand and one others in order to determine the signal, data, or power capacity present within the existing system. Utilizing technology like sensitive 3D scanners makes this process faster and more exact than ever before.

  • Utilize CAD drawings. With a mountain of data at our disposal, Meridian’s cable engineers can then use sophisticated CAD software to develop even more detailed renderings of the cable assembly. CAD helps to create a 3D representation of the product where further analysis can take place. We’re also able to put the assembly through modeling software to better determine how the system was utilized.
  • Identify components. Understanding the layout of the cable assembly takes understanding how each component interacts with one another and with the electrical system as a whole. Our engineers take special care to document all of these components as they were used in the assembly in order to facilitate rebuilding the new one.
  • Disassemble the assembly. Taking care to minimize damage to each of the components, our team works to remove the various components of the assembly layer-by-layer. Starting usually with the outer shield or sheath, we’ll carefully strip back the componetns like a geologist examines substrate in the Earth. Each aspect needs to be kept extremely organized and kept in a logical order to better understand how the cable assembly functioned. As well, these components will be measured and analyzed to provide better data for the re-engineered assembly. 
  • Rebuild the new custom cable assembly. With all of the data made available while reverse engineering cable assemblies in hand, our engineers can then set to work producing the new cable assembly. As with every assembly we produce, the final assembly is tested for continuity, integrity, functionality, and safety to see if the new cable assembly will provide the necessary functionality for which it is intended.

While the process can be tedious, reverse engineering custom cable assemblies needs to be incredibly exact in order to preserve functionality. The cable engineers of Meridian rely on our massive tooling inventory in order to replicate a perfectly functioning copy of the cable assembly required. 

Why is Reverse Engineering Cable Assemblies So Useful?

Reverse engineering can be incredibly useful for recreating the exact match needed to fit perfectly into an existing electrical system. However, the process itself provides ancillary benefits that contribute significant value to the overall effort.

  1. OEM Parts Replacement 

When you have a key component like a cable assembly fail that is part of a larger system, it becomes critical to be able to replace that part to keep the system in operation. But an OEM may no longer make the part or is simply out-of-business. Reverse engineering helps bypass having a huge capital expenditure to replace an entire system by recreating an exact match of the OEM part.

  1. Repair and Replacement Knowledge

When a manufacturer is no longer producing a given cable assembly, the knowledge of how the product was utilized, correct repair procedures, and the necessary replacement parts may all be lost. Reverse engineering helps to recreate this intrinsic knowledge which helps if a similar issue were to ever occur in the future.

  1. Analyzing Points of Failure (POF)

Reverse engineering also helps our engineers have time to pour over the entirety of the cable assemblies design. Along the way, they may be able to pick up on why the components failed in the first place and ensure systems are in place to prevent this from reoccurring. 

  1. Improving Components

Echoing POF analysis, our cable engineers may find certain aspects of the cable assemblies design are lacking or not quite as good as they could be. Reverse engineering affords the opportunity to improve upon any noted deficiencies.

Reverse engineering is a very useful tool in a custom cable manufacturers tool belt and a service we’re proud to offer our clients.

Need to Reverse Engineer Your Existing Cable Assemblies?

With the cable assembly in hand that needs to be replicated or even with just a picture, the gifted men and women of Meridian can reverse engineer your existing cable assemblies for even the most complex applications. Contact our team now to get your new custom cable project started.

Common CAN bus Problems: A Troubleshooting Guide

CAN bus systems are essentially high-speed freeways for digital information exchange within a tightly-packed and complex electrical system such as within an automobile. These tight spaces can’t fit a computer so Controller Area Networks (CAN) help bridge the gap to allow microcontrollers and other devices to “talk” to one another. But what happens when there’s an issue with a CAN bus system? Can you work on a CAN bus cable? How do you diagnose CAN bus problems?

To answer these questions and more, today’s LiveWire spotlight deep-dives into the complex world of CAN bus systems. We’ll cover common CAN bus problems and walk through troubleshooting and diagnostics with these intricate systems.

CAN Bus Wire & Cable Systems 101

CAN bus systems are vital components of the communication system within a vehicle, medical device, industrial control system, or other highly-complex yet space-constrained application. Within a vehicle, this allows form the different control modules to all talk to one another at the same time. Vital safety systems like the anti-lock brakes communicating with the engine’s own module, parts of the transmission, and more are then all displaying real-time information to the driver via the instrument cluster. This type of sophisticated communication requires cables and wires to be specifically engineered for the rigorous demands they’ll undergo. 

When CAN bus systems are working correctly, they’ll send and receive the data they are transmitting within a set of frames. Even with a closed system like a vehicle, the data is sent via a code that helps control modules prioritize the data that’s being sent. Within the code that’s coming from a control module, the code being sent has certain values that can designate the priority of a given message. This helps control the flow of data that’s going through the CAN bus system so that really important data, such as something related to a safety system, can be sent and received ahead of data that’s operationally generic. 

Within the code is also all of the data that needs to be transmitted in that instance from one control module to another. Think of your vehicle driving through snow or water and your vehicle automatically rotating tires at different speeds to compensate. This action may seem mundane when you drive everyday, but the intensely-complex actions to get there were all thanks to the CAN bus system crunching the data frames to communicate the proper action to take in the given situation. 

When the data is transmitted from one control module, the receiving module should always run a validity test on the incoming data to make sure it’s valid. This process is called a checksum and acts as a sort of checks and balances for the module sending the data. When the receiving module validates the data, it responds with acknowledgement of the validity to the transmitter and the system continues to operate as it was intended. When a checksum is not returned valid, a host of issues can develop which we’ll cover in the troubleshooting section below.

Different Types of CAN Bus Subsystems

There’s three types of CAN bus subsystems that help make it possible for different data transmission requirements. When performing within their specifications, these systems facilitate different types of communication between control modules simultaneously and without interference. 

The three types of CAN bus subsystems include:

  1. High-Speed CAN bus subsystems: used for speeds all the way up to 125 KB per second. The construction of the CAN bus high-speed wires creates an effect of opposing voltages. These properties are useful to help cancel out RMF.
  1. Medium-Speed CAN bus subsystems: will handle anywhere from 10 KB to 125 KB per second. These systems are usually made with a single wire that can be shielded to combat interference.
  2. Low-Speed CAN bus subsystems: for handling speeds that are generally 10 KB per second and lower via a single wire set-up. For these systems, wire engineers typically create a centralized control module that then controls other modules in the network.

When there’s an issue within the CAN bus system, a myriad of different concerns can occur. With a vehicle, for example, this may mean the vehicle ceases to run at all. Figuring out what you’re dealing with in a CAN bus system failure can be difficult but we’ll cover some common things to look for that may give you a hint at the issue. 

Spotting Issues Within a CAN Bus System

CAN bus systems have a lot of data flowing through their subsystems at any given moment. If the CAN bus wiring components aren’t performing up to spec, there can be major issues at play within the system. Many of the issues related to wiring can include poor-quality wiring, terminations done incorrectly, or using several different frequencies within a single CAN bus. 

Here’s a few different things you can look for as you diagnose a CAN bus system:

  • Make sure to have the perfect termination resistance. You can use a multimeter to measure this resistance present between the CAN low and high systems. An unpowered system typically runs at 60 Ohms and has two separate termination resistors. 
  • Any form of termination resistors must be located at the endline of the CAN bus system. These termination resistors will perform their best when they are located with precision. 
  • In general terms, the CAN bus system network resembles that of a tree. Believe it or not, the dimensions of the “tree” matter and even a slight variation can wreak havoc on the data integrity. This also goes for the lengths of several different CAN bus wires.
  • The majority of CAN bus wires should be twisted pairs. Twisted pair cables will take two different insulated wires and twist them together so as to run parallel to one another. This is used to combat the interference we discussed above.
  • When using a shielded cable on a CAN bus system, it’s important than only one side be grounded. Otherwise a situation called a grounded ground loop can occur and cause interference. 
  • To that, all the different network devices need to share the same ground so that ground loops don’t occur.

These are just some of the many different avenues you can take when trying to diagnose your CAN bus wire issues as the system is complex and subject to a lot of variables. For example, when the electric system has experienced a surge, it can wipe memory and cause malfunctions in the control modules. 

If you have issues that are above your head, contact our team. Our engineers can help diagnose your CAN bus system and suggest the best fix for your unique situation. 

Fixing Common CAN Bus Problems 

Running through the above can help you find the area of emphasis needed to repair CAN bus system issues. Fixing three of the more common problems that can befall a CAN bus system include:

  • Check over the CAN bus wiring

Ensure everything is solidly connected. All the wire junctions should have a strong solder and splices that are secure. You never want to see a junction that has a simple twist or wire nuts keeping it secure. You also don’t want to see things like terminal blocks, as they can end up distorting the bus wires’ signals. 

  • Pay attention to any stripped sections.

Stripping wires on a CAN bus system can easily lead to damaging sensitive components like the insulation. Without the insulation there to perform its job, interference can occur. Look over the system for any signs of junctions or sections that have been stripped and inspect the quality of the work. 

  • Test the termination, voltage, ground, and resistance levels.

The specifications for each of these can vary depending on the manufacturer so always test according to specifications. Within each of these fundamental tests you should find your CAN bus system performing in line. The smallest variations can add up to major sources of interference.

Seems simple but these complex systems rely just as much on quality components from the very first strand of wire onto the final wire harness that organizes the system in its intended environment. Meridian’s engineers sweat the details like these so that our customers don’t have to.

Using an Oscilloscope to Pinpoint CAN Bus Issues

When analysing waveforms with the use of an oscilloscope, you can actually spot the spikes where an error is occurring. An oscilloscope is an electric test that simply displays the system’s signal voltages. This is usually for more than one signal and presented as a function of time. The waveform has properties every wire engineer knows and loves like amplitude, frequency, and interval time. 

Using tools like an oscilloscope can help you spot differences between the mirror images of frequency and amplitude. Certain issues like a termination resistor failure or simply a communication malfunction present between control modules creates characteristic waveforms that a trained eye can easily spot.  

Start a CAN Bus Cable & Wire Order

Contact our team now to discuss the needs of your project and get the process started.

How to Properly Test Your Coil Cord Design

custom cable assemblies

Coil cords, curly cords, coiled cords – all of these monikers refer to the same versatile product of wound cable, perfect for space-saving and decluttering a given application. Coil cords are also exceedingly durable, as well as obviously flexible, able to withstand thousands of extensions and retractions. But getting from initial concept to finished product takes many design steps in between. Arguably the most crucial of which are the different tests each coiled cord undergoes in order to ensure functionality, safety, and performance in line with the parameters supplied by our client. 

Today’s Livewire News spotlight has its sights on the best ways to test coiled cord designs in order to produce the one-of-a-kind coil cables that live up to Meridian’s standards.

Starting Out with Simulated Design Testing

When our clients first meet with Meridian’s design staff, we start with covering the needs of the project, where the product will be employed, a timetable, and budget. With these factors, our team can begin to map out the process, tools, and equipment needed to complete the curly cord within the given set of parameters. 

Utilizing advanced computer-aided design (CAD) software systems, our engineers can begin building out a curly cord from the very first strand of wire. Designing in this virtual space allows our team the chance to see how different iterations come together and then how these work within given simulations. 

These simulations give us an opportunity to tweak certain aspects of the design in order to better meet the design requirements of the project. Perhaps a client needs a coil cord that cannot be cut where we may need to employ advanced materials in the jacketing or insulation such as Kevlar® or Teflon®. Starting with UL-listed components lets our engineers have an established point of origin i.e. a product with known specifications. Rather than trying to produce a given component from scratch, utilizing UL components means we already know the limitations and performance levels that can be expected. This provides a much better simulation and makes moving into prototyping all the easier. 

Prototyping Within the Coiled Cord Testing Process

Once our team has a design in mind, the most effective strategy for overall product quality is to proceed through a prototyping phase. Prototyping allows us the chance to see how the components come together and function in the real world. It’s not uncommon for our engineers to test two or three different versions of the same product to see which combination works best for our clients’ needs. During one complex curly cord design project for a medical technology application, our team produced 14 different prototypes to find the perfect set of materials, sourcing, and logistics plans in order to meet the unique specifications of the project. 

Logistics and sourcing are important variables for consideration during the prototyping stage. True, while materials play a huge role in how the product will function, almost every project undertaken has a definitive schedule that needs to be met. Seeing how the different versions come together from start to finish gives our project managers the best view possible of how a given production run will go. 

Once prototyping is complete and we’ve moved onto volume production, the units are still destined for a load of different tests before they’re ever ready to be delivered to the client.

Testing Curly Cords with Automated Units

Utilizing automated testing machines like the venerable Cirris® testing units allows for testing coil cord assemblies and harnesses en masse and to exacting levels of detail. Cirris units are able to test for continuity, which simply means that the flow of data, signal, or power through the coiled cable is not impeded in any way. 

Another testing parameter the Cirris units can undertake is called insulation breakdown testing. This testing regimen involves putting an excess of voltage through a coiled cable to see where insulation breaks down and can actually begin to conduct electricity. Knowing this threshold allows for incorporating insulating materials that can withstand the pressures of the application and the environment. 

Using several different versions of testing protocols with our Cirris units is one of the many ways our engineers can ascertain the level of quality in each and every product we manufacture.  

Meridian’s Very Own Advanced Life Testing Lab

One of the most exciting places to find yourself within Meridian’s manufacturing facilities is our Advanced Life Testing Lab. Within this dedicated space, men and women subject coiled cords to fire and ice, caustic chemicals, water, and more. All of these environmental factors are variables that require careful design in order to effectively mitigate against them. Producing a coiled cable for an automotive application, such as those seen on the backs of a semi-tractor trailer’s cab, requires a cable to withstand rain, snow, UV damage, and even chemicals like oil. 

Our Advanced Life Testing Lab was created with the single purpose of testing to see how cable assemblies and wire harnesses will hold up under extreme environmental factors so that they can be counted on to perform exactly as they are intended wherever they are implemented. Seeing how different components like the insulation, jacket, or connectors perform allows a studied performance review and an opportunity to tweak the design as needed.  

Different Tests to Perform with Coil Cables

With coiled cords expected to extend and retract many times throughout their useful life, these special cables are put through a battery of physical tests that see how long they can hold up. Measurements of failure thresholds and levels of compliance to specifications affords yet another opportunity for ensuring quality throughout the process. This attention to detail in quality is needed to adhere to the strict standards of ISO 9001:2015 certification, which we’re proud to maintain.

Some of the many curly cord tests that our team can perform to see where a given design rates include:

Cycles to Failure

The number of cycles that a product can achieve before fatigue and/or failure occurs. Generally this test is used with a new curly cord to decide where the threshold is. Starting out, the coiled cord is hooked up to a testing machine where length, speed, and the time spent retracted and extended are input. These all depend on the cord’s intended environment. 

Once these variables are plugged into the testing machine, the unit being tested goes until it gives out. In some cases, a coiled cord may need to last 500,000 extension and retraction cycles. If this product doesn’t meet this during a cycles to failure test, our designers will continue to work at solving the limited factors.

Retraction Compliance

After a curly cord is extended, it is expected to go back to its original length. When you have a curly cord that isn’t performing well, you can see a degradation of as much as 50% of the initial retracted length. A coiled cable that has been designed well and is performing at its best should be at 95% or more. Measuring the retraction length at rest and cycling the cord through many different times allows our engineers the opportunity to measure just how well the cord’s retraction is holding up. These specialized cables need to be known that they can be counted on to keep performing their function for however long their useful life is dictated.

Cable Flexing to Failure

Curly cords undergoing this test will see just how far the cable can be strained before continuity is broken. A cable flex testing machine will test the unit based on provided variables affecting radius, rotation angle, and cycle speed. Once a cable begins exhibiting signs of mechanical fatigue and/or failure, our engineers then have a threshold to work from.

There are also several different types of fatigue that our engineers watch for during testing. 

  • Mechanical fatigue testing provides an excellent view of the value to which the stress/strain can be before a curly cord either fails completely or begins to show signs of failure. 
  • Creep fatigue measures how many cycles can be performed under high temperature testing.
  • Thermo-mechanical is a combination of temperature extremes and straining within the coiled cable.
  • Corrosion sets in with caustic chemicals and particularly harsh environments.
  • Fretting can occur where friction is produced from sliding.

Knowing how components react towards a myriad of different variables and performing tests like these aid our engineers in producing the perfect custom curly cord to perform within the client’s unique set of circumstances. 

Starting Your Own Coiled Cable Design Project

Testing in coiled cords takes an engineer and design team knowing their product literally inside and out. Meridian’s engineers are gifted men and women with years of designing cables from the very first strand of wire onto some of the most sophisticated cable assemblies in the world. 

When you’re ready to start your own custom curly cord design project, trust our experienced team to ensure your product lives up to parameters needed to get the job done right. Contact us now to get started.

The Cable Engineer’s Ultimate Guide to Wire Harness Assemblies

Wire Harnesses and Wire Assemblies
Wire Harnesses and Wire Assemblies

When you’ve been a top cable engineer in custom harness assemblies for several decades, you begin to build up a vast knowledge bank of innovative manufacturing steps, process controls, and even tooling capabilities; all of which contribute to a better product and better customer experience. 

In today’s Livewire spotlight, we’ll capture everything we’ve learned for creating the perfect custom wire harness to integrate within even the most complex electrical systems.

What is a Wire Harness Assembly?

A wire harness assembly is the collection of various wires (single electrical conductors), cables (group of insulated wires), connectors, terminations, sleeves, and other infrastructure needed to provide a safe and efficient means for organizing wires within a larger electrical system. If that sounds like a mouthful, it’s because wire harnesses or complex mechanisms with direct impacts on the success of an electrical system. Whether that system is a life-saving surgical device or a vital piece of communications equipment for our military, wire harnesses play a crucial role in keeping these systems up and running.

Components Making up a Custom Wire Harness

Going back to the basics of a custom wire harness, These components all have to be of the highest-quality in order to meet the threshold standards set forth by the client. 

  1. Wires – a wire can be as simple as a single strand of a conductor like aluminum or copper. There are many variations of wires used in wire harness manufacturing, depending on the needs of the projects such as braided or stranded wires. 

Different gauges of wire can also be employed in the same custom wire harness to provide multiple and simultaneous functions. This level of sophistication is what makes complex and space-constrained designs possible. Common gauges based on the American Wire Gauge (AWG) system are 10, 12, and 14 but at Meridian we can extrude cables as small as 34 gauge.

As a cool side note, if you have a bunch of bare wires that get twisted together without any insulation, it’s still technically a single conductor and therefore a single “wire” rather than jumping up into the cable category.

  1. Insulation – wire insulation is the unsung hero of wire harnesses since they play a crucial role in protecting the wires within. Moisture, temperature swings, caustic materials, and other environmental factors all require a cable engineer’s attention when designing a wire harness to fit the system it’s intended for.

Insulation materials that are commonly utilized in wire harness assemblies include:

  • Polyvinylchloride (PVC) – this economical but strong material is intended for wires on the lower to medium-end of the voltage range. PVC insulation is very common as it’s great for protecting wires from heat, moisture, and abrasion.
  • Polyurethane (PU) – available as either thermosetting or thermoplastic, polyurethanes are a common insulation to protect wires from abrasion and moisture, while improving overall durability.
  • Thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) – in many cases TPEs are now replacing rubbers in the injection-moldable category. TPEs are very flexible and can be stretched without easily breaking, making them appropriate in a wide variety of situations. A TPE is a great way to increase the strength and resilience of a rigid thermoplastic, making them frequently used in overmolding. 
  • Thermoplastic polyester elastomer (TPEE) – these are considered your high-performance insulators. With the benefits of thermoset rubber but the ease of manufacturing of engineering plastics, TPEEs provide a high degree of strength and tear resistance as well as flexural strength. TPEEs are also able to help protect against caustic chemicals and temperature swings. For these reasons, they are commonly used in automotive wire harness applications.
  • Thermoplastic vulcanizate (TPV) – these special types of TPEs are vulcanized at high temperatures which helps make for a good compression set as well as strong resistance to heat. TPVs give the benefit of ease of processing like plastic but with the performance of rubber. This makes TPVs a cost effective means for enhancing performance.
  • Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE, commonly known as “Teflon®”) – this strong compound originally discovered by Dupont in the 1930’s is known for its tough, waxy-like makeup. PTFEs are a nonflammable form of synthetic resin used for being highly versatile and high performing against heat, moisture, and other variables.
  • Silicone – when you insulate a cable with silicone, you get an excellent thermal range, providing greater heat resistance. Silicone is definitely the preferred insulation type for extreme temperature swings. Silicone is also extremely maneuverable and flexible, making it ideal for tight spaces. Being easy to disinfect, silicone is also preferred for wire harnesses used by medical device manufacturers.

A cool aspect to common insulation types is the ability to vary the hardness or softness of each material depending on the needs of the project. This allows for the perfect degree of customization to be employed for the benefit and added efficiency to the overall system.

  1. Cables – there are many different standard cable types used in the industry. Cables will typically consist of a neutral wire ground wire, ad live or “hot” wire. Each of these then get twisting or bonding employed to bind together. Wires in a cable typically come insulated in a PVC or other insulator. Color coding the wires’ insulation aids in identification. 

Having standards (more on this below) helps cable engineers design a system based on the known specifications of a particular cable. This saves a lot of time and money versus producing a cable from scratch. 

As a UL-approved manufacturing facility, we’re able to produce a wide variety of UL-certified cable types such as TPT, SPT-2, TST, SVO, SJE, SJOOQ, and many more. Adjusting various factors like wire gauges, insulation, fillers, and sheathing materials, our designers are able to produce a cable that’s perfectly suited for its intended environment. 

With a custom wire harness and cable assembly manufacturer, the components are designed for the system rather than trying to be conformed to the system. The approach we utilize is more like an experienced football coach calling a well-orchestrated play that’s been practiced, employed, and proven successful many times over.

  1. Connectors – connectors come in all shapes and sizes and are typically utilized with a specific type of cable. For example, with ribbon cable connectors you might find d-sub connectors, socket-type connectors, dip connectors, and card edge connectors all inside a large and complex custom wire harness project.
  1. Terminations – to terminate a cable into the connection point of a piece of equipment, panel, wall outlet, or other device means having the perfect termination to do the job safely. Terminations also come in an absolutely endless amount of different types depending on the industry. Insulated and non-insulated, ring terminals, spade, and hook terminals are all common.

Telecommunications systems typically utilize UTP cables for LAN networking. UTP cable terminations like a copper insulation displacement (IDC) terminations are ideal for this specific application. No matter what the needs of the project, any cable engineer worth their weight will be well-versed in a wide variety of termination methods to most efficiently accomplish the task at hand.

  1. Sleeves – sleeves add built in resistance to UV, abrasion, cable management, and other benefits. Some of the different types of sleeves used in wire harnesses include:
  • Velcro sleeves are easy to secure and very common. 
  • Polypropylene spiral wraps come in many different diameters. Adding strength and resilience with UV resistance, as well. Great to utilize for color management.
  • Braided sleeves are great for aesthetics and can be heat shrunk to a specific cable and connector pair.
  • Polyethylene spiral wrap is very economical and offers a good basic level of cables from heat and everyday wear and tear. 

Using UL-listed components from the start helps build superior products that respond more in line with specifications. That’s because UL-listed products have been rigorously tested to ensure quality and consistency. This helps our engineers start with components of a known specificity, instead of having to design and test from scratch.

Utilizing quality components is just the beginning of any wire harness manufacturing project, which is why we’re proud to be certified by UL to produce a wide variety of standard wire and harness types.

What Wire Colors Mean

The wires that make up a wire harness are identified for safety and continuity in design. This can also be a desire for aesthetics. Standard colors and functionality include:

  • Black wires: typically designate a hot or positive current.
  • White wires: will typically be for negative currents.
  • Green wires: typically used for ground wires, especially in residential wiring applications.
  • Red wires: can be used as a secondary line for hot and or positive currents.
  • Blue wires: good for designating a point of connection. 

The ideal part of cable and wire colors is the vast degree of customization that can be employed. However it is easiest to make the wire harness assembly integrate with the existing system in a safe and efficient manner is what our team will employ.

Getting Wire Harness Assemblies Started

When it comes to custom wire harnesses, the manufacturer you choose to work with makes all the difference. Our team is proud to be a UL-approved manufacturing facility with an incredible range of capabilities for your next wire harness design project. Contact us now to get started.

The Insider’s Look at the Cable Assembly Manufacturing Process

Cable Assembly Manufacturer

There are decidedly many steps that comprise getting a cable assembly from concept into production. At Meridian, we design over 70% of the products we manufacture which gives our team an edge when we’re solving the types of complex problems our clients bring our way every day. 

Today’s spotlight is pointed squarely at the process of cable assembly manufacturing. We’ll cover how our brilliant cable and wire engineers bring our clients’ designs to life and what it takes to go from a digital blueprint all the way to volume manufacturing.

Laying the Framework: Cable Assembly Design 101

Whenever we start to get the cable assembly specifications from the client, our team can immediately set to work designing the perfect solution. The design phase is a crucial first step in the process and allows our team the ability to test multiple iterations of a product in a virtual environment. Utilizing sophisticated design software, our cable assembly engineers create the blueprint for the final design. 

Systems will be tested to make sure the assembly can withstand the rigors of its intended environment – all within complex simulations that greatly reduce the man hours needed to produce a given result. Even during the design phase, our engineers will be hard at work testing the design before ever moving forward in the process. It is indeed very rare for a product to move from the design phase to volume manufacturing without first going through a prototyping phase.

Why Use Prototyping in Cable Assembly Production?

Prototyping is taking the digital design our engineers have developed and physically bringing all the pieces together to see how they’ll perform in the real world. As with the design phase, when prototyping we can test several different versions simultaneously to see which product performs most efficiently. Aside from performance and integrity of product, prototyping also gives our team a chance to see how the supply chain will respond to the needs of the project. 

We strive to be a lean manufacturer, adhering to Kanban principles of waste elimination in the manufacturing process, as well as just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing which helps reduce time in production runs. Both of these principles are front and center during prototyping where our team can test how one set of products comes together versus sourcing a different way. Focusing on reducing waste at every step of the manufacturing process is one way we help ensure our projects are delivered on-time and on-budget.

A Closer Look at Short Run Manufacturing 

At Meridian, we get all kinds of orders from all kinds of industries. From military applications, to medical technology, telecommunications, and more, our cable assemblies help provide the data, signal, and/or power needed to run today’s advanced technologies. When a client needs a relatively small batch, such as with a sample production, we’re able to accommodate with a short run manufacturing process. Short run production also typically involves having at least one factor in the manufacturing process that’s fixed.

Soldering During a Manual Termination

Manual termination is often used during the short run manufacturing process in order to meet the requirements of our clients both in terms of how many products are being created and how quickly they need to receive them. Decreasing lead times is something our project managers are incredibly skilled at and manual termination using soldering is just one tool in their tool belt to do just that. 

With advanced technology and an incredibly skilled workforce, we are able to meet even the most precise soldering specifications to within .015. 

Moving Into Cable Assembly Manufacturing

Through every stage of cable assembly manufacturing, we strive to engineer in as much value as possible. Value is achieved when you have an extremely high quality product that our clients know they can depend on. 

There are many “off-the-shelf” cable assemblies out there, but these don’t always provide the exact solution our clients need nor are they usually engineered to the same level of quality as what is received with a UL-approved manufacturing facility like Meridian. We’re proud to be UL approved and can also work with our clients to get their products certified through most industry certification agencies.

Starting Off Right with Custom Cable Extrusion

When it comes to building high-quality cable assemblies, extrusion is a crucial piece of the manufacturing process. Extrusion is the process of manufacturing a cable assembly’s cross sections. These cross sections must be absolutely uniform in order for the system to perform at its best. Meridian’s extruder machines look something like a giant screw with a large hopper. The “screw” has a heated barrel where the material of choice from the hopper is combined and melted down so it can then be forced into a reusable metal die. With sophisticated equipment and very capable cable assembly engineers, we’re able to extrude conductors from 34 gauge all the way up to 12 gauge. 

A conductor is the basic building block of any assembly and gets stranded based on the needs of the project. After, we can insulate, fill, wrap, and shield depending on the environment the cable assembly will be used in. 

What is Insert Molding and Overmolding in Cable Assemblies?

Insert molding is a process we’ve completed many times which leads to a significant improvement in the strength and resiliency of a cable assembly. Insert molding involves applying an engineered plastic such as PVC or TPEE to cover the component and provide better protection. 

Overmolding connections can provide many different industry-specific advancements. For example, with medical devices, a silicone overmolding can be used to provide increased chemical resistance and tensile strength. Overmolding improves the overall quality of the assembly and also increases the limits for what is possible in medical device technology

Custom colors in overmolding help us be able to match our overmolded components to just about any color our client desires. For aesthetics, we can match a specific color of equipment or can help provide a color-coded overmold that makes the assembly easier to integrate. Custom designs like the name of a product or a corporate logo can also be placed on overmolds through our extensive tooling inventory.

High-Tech Ultrasonic Plastic Welding

Ultrasonic may conjure up images of your toothbrush but it’s just the word to describe the use of high-frequency vibration. In cable assembly manufacturing, ultrasonic welding is used to precisely seal components together in an extremely fast manner. Ultrasonic plastic welding produces a clean, strong connection point that makes the assembly all the more durable.

Test, Test, Repeat

One of the most important aspects to the entire cable assembly manufacturing process is the testing that is layered in from the very beginning. Our quality assurance team makes sure mistakes are prevented and the quality of process and product are both consistently high.

  • Analyzing Cable Assemblies for Signal Integrity

For each and every assembly that rolls off the production line, many rounds of testing will have already taken place. Even so, we test each product before shipping to ensure the integrity and functionality of the assembly. Signal integrity analysis helps our engineers look for things like opens or shorts, the correct pin-out, and also tests the integrity of the shielding. 

  • Utilizing Automated Testing Machines

Meridian utilizes highly-sophisticated, automated Cirrus testing units to ensure each product meets the high standards needed to complete its function. These testing units are able to spot even the smallest defects in the majority of cable assemblies produced. However, there are situations where a completely custom cable assembly requires a custom testing unit. In these cases, our expansive tooling inventory comes in handy. 

  • Testing for the Environment with Our Advanced Life Testing Lab

Testing cable assemblies would be useless if they are never subjected to the types of real world conditions they’ll be facing in their given systems. That’s why we created our very own Advanced Life Testing Lab. Here, our quality assurance engineers set to work putting cable assemblies through their paces, while being hit with all manner of environmental variables like extreme temperatures and moisture. 

Getting it There: Maintaining Efficient Logistics

Leveraging two, wholly-owned manufacturing facilities in the US and in China, Meridian is able to efficiently manage a global supply chain. This means our assemblies get where they need to go, exactly when they need to get there. Completing cable assemblies on-time and on-budget requires key planning from design all the way through delivery.

Starting a New Custom Cable Project

Moving forward with a custom cable manufacturer requires a lot of trust. Customers trust that the cable manufacturer has the tools and capabilities to produce a solution that fits and that can be depended on. Our team becomes a trusted partner in the success of each and every project we undertake. From the first design consultation through volume manufacturing, the Meridian team ensures we meet or exceed all project milestones. 

To get your custom assembly project started, contact us now through our online form. You can also reach us by calling 1-877-806-8667 or email us at sales@meridiancableassemblies.com.

Utilizing Flex Cable vs Ribbon Cable in Cable Assemblies

Wire Testing Techniques for Your Cable Assembly

Flex cable and ribbon cable both go by many names but each is employed the world over to power an untold number of electronic devices and systems. The capabilities of these two types of cable have their own set of pros and cons which make each uniquely suitable for a particular project. 

Today, the Livewire News spotlight is on knowing the best times to utilize flex cable vs ribbon cable in your next custom cable assembly. We’ll cover everything you need to know about these crucial building blocks and help you pick which one is best suited to meet the needs of your project.

What is Flex Cable?

Flex cable, or flexible flat cable (FFC), is a type of cable that is flat in shape and flexible enough to be maneuvered within tight spaces. Basically, a flex cable is like an advanced, miniaturized ribbon cable. Flex cable applications are usually used in small and tight spaces, just like what you see on today’s smaller electronic devices like with a laptop, cell phone, or tablet. 

The construction of a flat cable really helps manage cables because of the uniform, flat shape. Usually a flexible plastic is used in the base where several different conductors are able to be bonded with the surface. The flat cable provides three main advantages over a round cable with space-saving design, improved resistance to electromagnetic interference (EMI)/radio frequency interference (RFI), and helping to avoid any issues related to wire coupling. With decades of experience employing flex cable in a wide variety of applications, Meridian is able to produce the perfect flex flat cable assembly to meet the needs of the project.

Designing Flex Cable

Flex cable engineers work to produce a variety of different cables, depending on requirements. We can produce flexible flat cable with anywhere from 2 to 32 pins in it, each with its own insulation customization in order to make the assembly perfect for its intended environment. This may mean a very high-temperature environment such as in an automobile engine or even a combination of high-temperature and moisture such as in marine applications. 

Variables like these require careful design considerations at every level of a flex cable design. With each step, our engineers test and retest the components for integrity, polarity, and safety to ensure they have what it takes to get the job done.

What are Ribbon Cables Used For?

Ribbon cables, aka flat ribbon cables, are the most common types of cable used in the electronics we all use everyday. These versatile cables are used in printers and PCs, robotics, circuit boards, industrial controls, TVs, and so much more. 

As with a flex cable, ribbon cables are a flat arrangement of parallel wires. This makes a ribbon cable appear a bit like a cut of ribbon used for tying presents and hence the name. The ribbon cable is a very flexible type of cable and is used in applications where a more rigid cable assembly simply wouldn’t work. The assembly lends itself well to being able to pull off many different applications at the same time, which helps keep costs lower with less time and materials needed to accomplish the same end-task. 

When you’re looking at different ribbon cable assemblies, there’s two unique attributes that help tell them apart. The first is the spacing/pitch and the second is the number of conductors are used. Each of these usually follows a set scale but the brilliant designers of Meridian are extremely well-versed in creating custom setups, as well. With conductors, we are able to run a full gamut of AWG stranded copper wire but will typically see a range from 18 to 34 AWG for ribbon cables. 

For a more in-depth view of the manufacturing process, check out the video in this post of flat ribbon cables being processed by our high-performance automatic cutting machine.

Choosing the Right Connectors and Terminations for Ribbon Cables 

A special note on ribbon cables is their ability to transmit large amounts of data, electricity, or signal simultaneously. However, this is only made possible by using the right types of connectors and terminations. 

Common connectors we use with ribbon cables include d-subminiature (d-sub), socket, dips, and card edge. Each of these connectors will have their own applications to fit perfectly with the situation. D-subs, for example, are commonly used to connect the monitors to your desktop and may be what’s helping you read this article right now. 

For ease of termination, a flat ribbon cable assembly is the way to go. That’s because it utilizes a rigid spacing plan which allows for mass termination with the use of IDC connectors. IDC stands for insulation displacement socket and helps ribbon cables be employed in a variety of situations. IDCs are employed to make termination simplified which helps save time, money, and overall efficiency.

When to Use Flex Cable Over Ribbon Cable

Just putting these two head-to-head we start to see which applications each is best suited for. Each of these designs is incredibly cutting-edge and is used to power the most advanced electronics on Planet Earth, and far beyond. Telecommunications systems, especially, rely on the space-saving design of both of these cables in order to function properly. Still, each has their own set of advantages that make them uniquely suitable for different tasks.

Ribbon cables are used in everything from military applications to life-saving medical equipment. With the IDC terminations we discussed earlier, ribbon cables are incredibly versatile and especially suited for wire-to-board applications. They are known for being a very high-quality cable, with superior flexibility and a space-saving design. They are also inherently good at reducing RFI and EMI, have a long life span, and can be built to withstand extreme temperatures. However, even with all of these, the termination of ribbon cable can be less efficient than that of a FFC. As well, there can be greater friction present throughout cycles. These considerations are what help our team decide when it would be better to use a FFC rather than a ribbon cable.

FFCs have a few additional design considerations that make them more suitable for specific tasks. Because of their design, FFCs are not able to shift within the jacket which helps them maintain a good level of operational efficiency. FFCs also allow you to be able to use conductors of the same type and length as in inflexible flat cables, just the conductors are safely isolated from one another. Added bonus is that an FFC is typically even more flexible than a ribbon cable. With a better performance rating for heat dissipation, lighter weight, smaller volume, and improved signal, the FFC is able to provide better performance than ribbon cable in a number of categories. 

Comparing Rigid vs Flexible PCBs

Knowing how our products fit into a larger assembly is a tremendous advantage to using a custom cable manufacturer over an off-the-shelf cable. Commonly used in conjunction with flex and ribbon cable applications is printed circuit boards or PCBs. These components are another crucial piece of the puzzle when it comes to sending whatever combination of data, signal, or power is needed. 

The two main types of PCBs you’ll see are rigid and flexible, with many different variations of each available. One of the biggest differentiators between the two is flex PCB price. Rigid flex is made into a lot smaller sizes which, in turn, eliminates the need for additional components and connectors. This leads to an overall simpler design that’s easier and more suitable. This cost advantage carries over to the end product such as with the price of handheld devices. 

A rigid circuit board typically utilizes cheaper materials but will be a tad more expensive since they’ll need to incorporate various connectors and cable assemblies in order for the circuit boards to be connected. Rigid flex PCBs are stronger and more durable than their rigid counterparts which provides a good long-term solution. Because of their simplicity, there’s less components that can fail over time. 

The physical properties of rigid-flex PCBs such as being both lightweight and extra durable, means they’re perfect for solutions like today’s high-tech devices. Detail-oriented industries like avionics rely on rigid flex PCBs because of long term savings, reliability, and ability to provide better signal quality.

Starting a Project Using Flex or Ribbon Cable Components

With many years of designing, testing, and manufacturing our own custom cable assemblies, the team at Meridian has built up an incredible level of tools and experience to pull off the perfect solution for our clients. With flat or ribbon cable, as with the many different cables we produce, we don’t play favorites. We simply design and test our systems to find out the most efficient way to solve even the most complex issues our clients are facing. 

To start going over your project’s specs with a knowledgeable team member, please get in contact however is most convenient. Call 1-877-806-8667 or simply fill out our online contact form