Category Archives: Wire testing

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

Single and Multi-Stranded Wiring for Cable Assemblies

Ensuring that your manufacturer’s cable assembly meets your product’s specific design requirements.

Determining the various differences and use cases for single strand and Multi-Stranded Wiring and conductors can be difficult. The difference isn’t a visible one, and with all of the variables in designing custom wiring, it’s not likely to be one that you and your team think of. However, this difference can dictate whether your product succeeds or fails – if a wire in your product cannot withstand movement and cracks as a result, it’s not likely to be well received by customers. To ensure that your product uses a conductor material that is suited for your industry and the type of custom cable that you will be utilizing, work with your manufacturer’s engineers and designers to ensure that the best choices are being made for your custom cable.

Here are some of the important differences between single and multi-stranded wiring, and what these differences will mean to your final product:

Single Stranded Wiring:

  • This type of wiring is typically less expensive to manufacture than a multi-stranded wire as it does not require as much processing.
  • Single stranded wire is not as flexible as the alternative. This lack of flexibility can increase the likelihood of metal fatigue and the wire snapping as a result. Because of this, single stranded wires are best suited for products that won’t encounter much movement.
  • This type of wiring is often only used in smaller gauge wiring applications as it can be difficult to maneuver and utilize a heavy gauge, single conductor wire.

Multi-Stranded Wiring:

  • This type of wiring has a higher cost due to the need for more rounds of extrusion and stranding.
  • Multi-strand wiring is more flexible and less susceptible to cracking and metal fatigue than single stranded conductors. This makes it the preferable solution for wiring that will need to maneuver and bend without experiencing metal fatigue.
  • The increased surface area of multi-stranded conductors decreases the amount of resistance that currents or signal passing through the wire will encounter.
  • Multi-stranded wiring can create challenges when soldering connectors or terminals as it can be difficult to ensure that all of the small strands have been soldered properly.  If this type of wire is soldered, it is good practice to tin the wire first. This type of wiring is better suited for use with an application that requires a crimp connector. The small, flexible strands of wire typically crimp easily and mold to the crimp connector very well.

Multi-Stranded Wiring
Multi-Stranded Wiring

Types of stranding arrangements for Multi-Stranded Wiring

If your project seems suited for multi-conductor wiring, there are a variety of geometric arrangements that the wires can be put into to optimize the final product. These geometries include:

  • Concentric Arrangements – This is a common wire arrangement in which the conductors  are arranged in concentric circles. The benefit of this arrangement is that the wires can be bunched tightly together to maintain the wire’s shape, reducing the need for additional filler material in many instances.
  • Bunch Arrangements – Unlike concentric stranding, the wires are not arranged in a specific geometry, but are simply grouped together and then twisted to ensure that they remain tightly packed.
  • Rope Arrangements – This arrangement groups strands of conductors together in several small bundles. These bundles are then arranged in concentric circles. This increases the flexibility of the final wire, making it ideal for applications that require a great deal of movement or will be housed in a product that moves frequently or in multiple directions. This arrangement is more popular in applications with a larger wire gauge size, adding to the product’s overall durability and functionality.
  • Annular Arrangements – In this arrangement, conductors are centered around a circular core that is not typically conductive. This helps the conductor material to retain its shape. This arrangement can be helpful for reducing the wire’s resistance.

These are just a few of the various geometric shapes that can be used in the wire and cable manufacturing process. Choosing the most effective type of conductor for your wiring project is key to its efficiency and reducing the odds that your product will need service down the line.

Will Single or Multi-Stranded Wiring Be Suited To Your Custom Cable Assembly?

The Best Wire Testing Techniques for Your Custom Cable Assembly

It can be difficult to in that your cable manufacturer offers and which ones will be best for assessing your product.

Your guide to understanding the quality assurance testing options offered by your cable assembly manufacturer.

Despite the effort and planning involved in developing and designing wiring products, no wiring system is ever truly tested until it is placed in real-world scenarios. This is because it is so difficult to assess the way that a wiring system will actually work when put to the test and used with another highly specific product or machine. The type of testing that your custom cable will need to endure depends on several factors such as the product that it will be housed in, the cable or wire’s function, and how it will be handled on the job.

Here are some of the common Wire Testing Techniques that are used for testing materials:

Wire Testing Technique #1: Advanced Life Testing Labs

Wire Testing Techniques for Your Cable Assembly
Wire Testing Techniques for Your Cable Assembly

Advanced life testing labs are designed to put your custom assemblies and custom cable through rough conditions to see how durable they are while in use. This testing system can be as simple as attaching weights to the wire’s connectors or terminals to gain a sense of the wire’s strength, to more advanced testing designed to assess how the assembly might react to real world use. This type of testing is designed to provide you with an idea of the amount of wear and tear that the final product will be able to handle to determine if any adjustments need to be made prior to large-scale manufacturing. Advanced life testing is particularly common with coiled cords which tend to encounter stress resulting from over-stretching more than traditional cords.

Wire Testing Technique #2: Tensile Strength Testing

Tensile strength is the amount of force that a wire or cable can withstand before breaking. This is necessary for wires and cables that will be used in heavy duty industrial projects and are likely to be handled roughly. One way of testing tensile strength is to conduct pull testing. Pull testing applies force to both ends of the wiring system to determine how much force the wire can endure before losing its functionality. This may be a useful test to consider if your product will be in a rugged environment or will be used in a mechanism that will require it to withstand force or tugging.

Wire Testing Technique #3: Cycles to Failure Testing

Different types of cycles to failure testing can be performed depending on your custom wiring needs such as the product’s intended lifespan, if replacement parts are feasible for this product, if the product will encounter any chemicals, and any additional machinery the product will be exposed to. This type of testing is so beneficial because it can be used to determine how many times a cord can be stretched before breaking, how many times it can withstand weight or force being applied to it, or simply how many times a coiled cord can be pulled and recoil before it begins to lose functionality. This type of testing can also be used to benchmark products and then test subsequent revisions to gauge how much improvement is gained through design changes.

Wire Testing Technique #4: Testing the Cable’s Jacketing Material

This is another important factor to consider when determining if the cable or wire that has been produced will be able to withstand the unique conditions that your product must function in. This can be tested through the use of prototypes to see how the product will function in real-world conditions. There are also mechanized ways to determine the jacketing’s flexibility to ensure that it will not begin to bend or crack while in use.

Wire Testing Techniques for Your Cable Assembly
Wire Testing Techniques for Your Cable Assembly

This type of flexibility testing becomes very specific, and there are even different types of tests that can be performed based on the type of motion that your specific product will encounter. The different types of motion that can be assessed include rolling flex movements, bending flex motions, and random motion. Ask your manufacturer and design team to help you assess your final product’s type of motion, if any, to ensure that the end product works as efficiently as possible. It’s important to assess whether or not your product can withstand the wear and tear that it will encounter before your team begins manufacturing custom cable assemblies, assembly cabling, and other wiring products on a large scale.

Conclusion

Ensuring that your wiring can withstand the various stresses that it will encounter throughout its lifespan, with minimal need for service and repair, is important to the reputation and longevity of your product. Taking the time to test these elements and make various prototypes may seem like it’s putting a drag on the production process; however, this attention to detail and rigorous testing will pay off in the long run, resulting in a product that is ideal for your industry.

Assessing the Wire Testing Techniques that are Best for Your Custom Cable Assembly