Santa Promotes Custom ‘All the Way’
From hand crafted toys to cable solutions
With Christmas only a few weeks away, Santa’s elves are hard at work building toys for all the good girls and boys of the world. Why do Santa and his elves dedicate the extra time and effort into designing, customizing, and building toys for each child vs. ordering off the shelf toys from a big box store? When Santa is checking his list and then checking it twice, he wants to make sure he is giving the children a quality toy that is specific to their wish and personality! When Northwire’s customers give us a list of requirements, we don’t want to try and force an off the shelf cable to fit their specific device or application. We are checking their requirements list twice to make sure they’re getting exactly what they need out of their custom cable solution for superior performance. Read on to learn about advantages vs. disadvantages of choosing custom cable and assembly solutions as well as where to start with a custom design.
Advantages vs. Disadvantages
1. The Perfect Fit
Instead of trying to ‘make it work’ with off the shelf cable, which often times does not fulfill the specific requirements of a project, partner with a cable designer to ensure the cable solution fits your exact end application's needs. This process also helps to ensure that your cable is not ‘over’ designed for your application, which can lead to cost savings!
There’s also an opportunity for space saving which can be quite an advantage in applications where space is valuable such as in automotive, aerospace, or medical. Perhaps two cables can be combined into one solution or overall size on the cable can be reduced with different materials and wall thickness.
2. Long Term Savings
Generic components are tempting primarily due to an attractive initial low price. Companies eager to find savings must also consider long-term costs from ill-fitting cable, customer support, cost of quality, reputation and other factors. Made-to-order custom solutions are designed and manufactured with your unique end application in mind to require less upkeep and a lower total cost of ownership.
Another reason some may choose off the shelf is because they’re worried about the time it takes to design and manufacture custom cable. This is another scenario where long term savings need to be considered because although you may save some time upfront, if the cable does not perform or fit as expected, then you are back at square one and have to start the process over again. Work with a cable design expert up front to ensure cable and assembly design match the form, fit and function of your end device!
3. Subject Matter Expertise
When selecting a cable manufacturer, consider your need for technical support. There are a myriad of material options and hybrid components to choose from, which can be a bit overwhelming. This is especially true if you are on a time crunch and, like many of our customers, have left the connectivity for last! Whether you have a napkin sketch or fully identified specifications, it is important to partner with a custom cable manufacturer with application engineers that can guide you through every step of the process from concept to complete solution.
4. Reliable Quality
Does your end application require compliance with a specific agency listing? Need help navigating these complex requirements? Northwire has warned customers before on the dangers of cheap cable assemblies that turn out to be counterfeit. Invest in products from an OEM that subjects their products to extensive third-party testing.
Where to Start
Ok so you’ve decided to go with a custom cable for your project, now what? First things first - having an understanding of the environment of the end application is one of the most important first steps of designing a custom cable. These two factors affect materials, possible agency listings that may be needed, testing requirements, etc.
End Application – The application is the number one influencing factor when selecting materials for any component of the cable. Certain specifications or characteristics may be determined by the end use. For example, if the cable will be in a medical device, the jacket may need to be Biocompatible and/or Sterilizable, which will quickly narrow down the list of material options.
Environment - Material options will differ depending on the environment that the cable and end application will be exposed to such as extreme temperatures or continuous flexing. Furthermore, time, temperature, and frequency of the exposure to the extreme environment will be important to know as well.
Hybrid components - Let’s face it, these days we have to do more with less. It’s true of our time and to-do list, and it’s true for cable as well! One of the benefits of choosing to design a custom cable is that you can “miniaturize” your cable by taking multiple cables and combining into one solution. For example, depending on the end application, a cable might need to transmit data, provide power, allow fluid or air to pass through, while also maintaining mechanical or pull strength.
Strength members - Add both function and protection to connectivity solutions with strength members. Specific strengthening materials may be added for unique solutions such as pull strength, push strength, mechanical strength, or rigidity. Fiberglass rods, steel strength members, and aramid fiber are three of the more common types of strength members.
Breather tubes - Integral to functionality in some extreme environments. With a wide range of material types, sizes, and durometers, these cable compliments can offer increased protection against high heat, pressure, oil, water, chemicals, flame, and abrasion. Whether they are housing fiber optical components, venting heat in electrical equipment, or used in pneumatic lines in an oil field, breather tubes prevent damage caused by high temperatures and pressure while adding helpful functions to the cable system.
Fillers - At first glance, fillers may seem like the simplest aspect of cable and wire. Their primary function is to fill the space between other components in order to provide the desired form. However, it gets more complicated – fillers made of a variety of materials may be added to enhance functionality and give the cable additional strength and protection against environmental factors.
Tapes, wraps, and separators – These serve as barriers between a cable’s core components and the outer jacket material so that they do not bond together. However, like fillers, there are many additional functions that these layers can perform based on individual needs and applications.
Shielding - Provides protection by increasing both structural integrity and signal integrity. Selecting the right shielding materials and configurations can add strength, flexibility, and noise suppression.
Lifespan of the application
As stated earlier, custom cable doesn’t always have to be more expensive. One way to ensure that fact is to make sure you’re getting the custom cable design that is needed by your application – and nothing more. Some applications may require the ‘Cadillac’ of cables, but others might be fine with an economy version. This is part of the reason why standard, off the shelf cables might not be the best choice. There might be more content in the cable than what your application requires. Let’s ensure your cable meets the needs of your application without breaking the bank or adding unnecessary components!
If the intended application requires a flexible cable and/or a cable with a high flex-life, cable designers will be sure to get more details in order to choose the optimal materials. Types of flex, duration of the flexing, direction, number of axes, etc. will all affect custom cable design. To learn more about material options to achieve optimal flexibility and/or flex life, take a look at our recent blog on the topic: Optimize your Cable for Flexibility and High Flex Life
If the cable needs to be UL listed or have a CSA marking, the materials that can be used will be selected depending on those requirements.
Different end applications will put different demands on a cable and assembly, which is why it’s important to work with your cable designer on a custom test program as well! For example, if your end application requires different types of flex, you may need to incorporate one or more of the following tests:
- Torsional. When a cable is twisted, pulled, or rolled around its axis, it experiences torsional flex.
- C track, Drag chain, or Rolling. Often seen in track systems, rolling a cable not only stresses the cable’s interior components, but also wears down the outer jacket over time.
- Variable. More “free form,” variable flex may make a cable move on multiple points in multiple directions – often seen in robotics.
- Bending. This “tic toc” motion often happens when part of the cable is stationary, and the other part is bent back and forth over a fixed object.
- Continuous. In many industrial applications, flex isn’t occasional – the cable may be part of equipment that requires constant, repeated movement for the lifespan of the system.
Santa doesn’t settle for off the shelf, mass-produced toys, so why should you settle for an ill-fitting standard, off the shelf cable? Whether you’re looking to miniaturize your cable, ruggedize your cable solution, or optimize materials for specific requirements, work with a cable design expert to ensure your requirements are satisfied.