Miniaturizing your cable and wire

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Posted On:
June 29, 2020

You may be preparing for your upcoming 4th of July celebration. When we think about our Independence Day plans, we tend to think bigger IS better especially when it comes to food, drinks, and fireworks of course! However, when it comes to your custom cable interconnectivity solutions, bigger may not always be better. As technology evolves and systems need to be smarter and faster, they have to do so in an even smaller space. Consumers not only want information at the tip of their fingers, but they want it in an unobtrusive way. As a result, the trend for cable design has been moving toward a smaller overall cable or multiple cables being designed into one hybrid cable solution.

So how do we go about ‘miniaturizing’ a cable design? There are different materials and components at various steps of the overall cable design that can lead to a smaller overall diameter or a bundled cable that offers a complete solution in one cable.

One way to literally miniaturize is to reduce wall thickness of the cable’s insulation or jacket. Selecting a material with a high dielectric strength allows for a thinner wall while still maintaining electrical properties.  Fluoropolymers are a great choice for miniaturization because of their extreme temperature resistance. A high temperature fluoropolymer can handle the increased temperature from adding more inner conductors into one cable without compromising performance.

Northwire offers a fluoropolymer, more specifically an extrudable PTFE, which can offer a reduction of thickness of up to 40% compared to other fluoropolymers! That means space reduction, weight reduction, and potentially cost reduction. A low dielectric constant also means reliable electrical performance despite that thin wall.

A push for miniaturization is seen in almost every industry including medical, automotive, industrial sensors, and more! The medical industry is mostly focused on reducing gauge sizes and the overall diameter of the cable. While medical device manufacturers continually increase the functionality of the machines, they have not increased the area where the cable needs to fit, so they need to be smaller and smaller to still fit in the consoles or cabinets. In addition, the cables need to maintain optimal performance, which typically means data, power, and sometimes control all through one cord. Doctor comfort is another consideration in this industry. Part of the push for smaller cables is due to the rise in handheld surgical tools which need to be lightweight to reduce Doctor fatigue. In order to maintain a soft and supple feel to the cable, a material with a softer durometer is recommended so it’s easy to maneuver and manipulate.

When choosing conductor material for miniaturizing, litz wire may be a good option. Litz wire offers more amperage in a smaller gauge size. This is because each litz wire is made up of individually insulated strands, which allows them to offer more amperage. For example, a 28 gauge litz wire can handle more amperage than a standard 28 gauge tinned copper conductor.

Another way to optimize amperage, while minimizing size is to switch from a larger gauge size conductor to several smaller ones. One example would be to replace a 20 gauge size conductor with six 24 gauge conductors and terminate them all to the same pin to give equivalent amperage to the original 20 gauge. This will help reduce size and weight in the cable.

When we talk about miniaturization we might always think ‘tiny’. However, making any size cable smaller in diameter is technically miniaturization. How is this achieved? A large cable can still be miniaturized or made into a smaller cable by choosing the right materials to reduce overall diameter. This could be achieved through conductor material, stranding, gauge sizes, jacketing materials, etc.

Although it may not be the first thing you think of in terms of miniaturizing a cable, taking multiple separate cables and designing one, consolidated, hybrid cable solution is also considered miniaturization. The cable may not look ‘miniature’, however combining cable functions into one cable means less cable to store or secure out of the way. Wire sizes may be the same to meet certain electricals or agency approvals but combined into one hybrid cable. The key for best serving customers is for the Cable Design Engineer to find out the end application. For example, combining power and data is a common request, however there are a couple of things to keep in mind when doing so. The power – is it high enough that it would affect the data signal? Do we need to shield the signal conductors to protect them from the power bundle?

Finally, remember to keep your assembly in mind throughout the process of miniaturizing your cable. It will be helpful for your Cable Design Engineer to know what connector you will be using and how you plan to terminate in order to make the best material and design choices for the cable. It is important to consider maximum and minimum overall diameter when choosing your connector to ensure the cable will terminate correctly.

Whether your miniaturization goals are to reduce overall diameter or combine multiple cables into a hybrid solution, Northwire’s Cable Design Engineers are available to make recommendations and get creative with your design based off of decades of experience. We encourage customers to get a Cable Design Engineer involved in the process early on to ensure proper materials and components are selected to achieve both performance and aesthetic goals.



Get started on your miniaturized cable today!