Right Choice of “Cable Assembly” and “Wire Harness” in Electrical Components: What is the difference?

By | Date posted: | Last updated: December 16, 2019
cable-assembly-and-wire-harness

In common parlance we often land up using the terms “ cable assembly” and “wire harness” interchangeably. The fact however is that these components are quite different with distinct functions. Here is an overview on what each of these are and the individual purposes they serve:

Cable Assembly

Essentially these are groups of wires with an exterior covering made of a protective material such as thermoplastic, thermoplastic rubber, or vinyl. On account of this exterior coating, it is possible to use cable assemblies for outdoor applications as they can withstand harsh environmental conditions. Cable assemblies find use in industries such as -military, aerospace, security installations, oilfields and more.

Cable assemblies are largely meant:

  • To protect the cable from environmental conditions
  • To provide protection from electrical flow
  • Overall it helps to organize the electrical systems

The advantage with cable assembly is that:

  • The wires in the cable can be in twisted pairs or even in triads
  • In case of HDMI cables or Ethernet cables where the wires need controlled impedance, these are very helpful.
  • A metal strand can run with the wires which in turn can provide electrical connectivity between the connectors
  • In order to ensure easy assembly and handling by technicians, the jacket can be color coded.
  • The wire can be cut at length so it does not require zip ties.
  • They can be designed to meet the specific demands, including shape & size constraints
  • They are designed for outdoor application
  • Are durable and can withstand harsh environmental conditions

Wire Harness

A wire harness is a single cable covered by an exterior sheath, which is made from the same material that is used in cable assemblies. Several coated wires are bundled together with an external covering to form a wire harness. Wire harnesses however are not known to protect the wires from a range of environmental factors. Harnesses are therefore suitable for use in applications where there isn’t too much exposure to harsh environmental conditions- be it extremes of temperature, moisture or more. Harnesses are therefore best used in equipments such as cars, computers, airplanes and more.

Advantages of a wire harness

  • They are a low cost option
  • They are suitable for indoor applications

The commonality between wire harnesses and cable assemblies is that both of them help organize wires, however their usage differs greatly. Here are the major differences between cable assemblies & wire harnesses

Look & function

Cable assembly consists of multiple wires bound together by an outer sleeve. Each cable may function separately but the final product looks like a single thick wire. Wire harness, on the other hand, is separately sheathed wires grouped together.
Cable assemblies can be used in tight, small spaces while wire harnesses tend to be bulky and cannot be maneuvered around so easily.

Durability

A cable assembly is extremely durable and stress resistant and is designed for outdoor applications as it can withstand harsh environmental conditions. A wire harness on the other hand is best suited for indoor use.

Application

While cables are used in industrial applications, harnesses work well for indoor usage.

Both cable assemblies and wire harnesses therefore come with their own pros and cons. It is important to have a thorough understanding of them to be able to make the correct choice.

Building and testing wiring harness and cable assemblies

When it comes to building wire harnesses and cable assemblies the process is pretty much similar. It requires wires to be cut, soldered to connector pins while some require potting at the connector end. What is also required with both wire harnesses and cable assembly is extensive testing. One needs to be sure that connectivity is correct and there is no scope of shorts. They also need to be tested for compliance, insulation resistance as well as for any passive components. It is therefore important to choose a provider who has enough domain expertise in these areas.

Overall knowing whether to use cable assembly or a wire harness will go a long way in mitigating manufacturing costs as also protecting yourself against costly mistakes.

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