Wire and cable do not generally come with all the modifications needed for a specific application. For example, your application could call for wire with ink-jet printing for easy identification during installation and usage. Similarly, you may want your wires dyed various colors for prompt circuit identification. This is where value-added manufacturers take over.
Several manufacturers supply distributors, wire harness manufacturers, and OEMs with value-added services for wire and cable products. A value-added service indicates a customization on an order that goes beyond a basic or core service. In other words, it benefits the end user by “adding value” to the standard service offered.
In the electrical wire and cable industry, value-added services include braiding, cut and strip, printing, bar-coding, dyeing, custom put ups, striping, and more. These services can be broken down into four main categories – Identification Solutions, Installation Solutions, Labeling Solutions, and Packaging Solutions.
Identification Solutions: Striping, Dyeing, and Printing
Striping and Dyeing
Manufacturers and distributors of electrical wire often add stripes or dye a base wire another color. These processes are multifunctional as they add value to the product, differentiate the wire for circuit identification and help control inventory volumes of stocked material.
In order to dye a wire, a specially-built machine feeds the wire product through a system of pulleys. First, the wire passes through a “wiper,” a foam circle that encompasses the entire cable. The jacket of the wire absorbs a formulated dye that is present in the foam. After passing through the wiper, the wire goes into a heat tower to cure and dry.
Striping, which many manufacturers offer for extruded wire, is performed in the same machine as dyeing. However, for striping, the wire does not pass through a foam wiper. Instead, the wire passes through a striper head that spins around the wire before it goes into the dryer tower.
The produced stripes are either longitudinal or spiral. Post-production striping usually generates a spiral stripe, like that on a candy cane. Longitudinal stripes, which run along the side of a wire, are also available post-production, but are not as common as the spiral type. Contrasting stripes are generally used when more than ten circuits have to be identified.
Almost all insulations are able to be striped, including PVC, rubber, silicone, and PTFE. Similar to striping, most PVC compounds can be dyed to individual specifications without encountering any problems. However, some compounds that are CV-cured or irradiated are not able to be dyed because they were originally designed to repel both petroleum- and alkaline-based chemicals. The color will not soak into the insulation and is prone to flaking.
In addition to common striping and dyeing methods, there are other ways of marking wire for identification. Many OEMs and harness manufacturers prefer using printed wire in their assembled products. Printed wire not only helps in the assembly of products, but also benefits installers and users of the finished product.
One way of marking wire is with ink-jet printing. Using a dot matrix printer, a series of “dots” create characters on a wire. For example, in the automotive industry, a harness may be manufactured for turn signals. In this case, the specific wire would be ink-jet printed “left front turn signal” or “tail lights.” Each wire would be color coded in the harness and ink-jet printed, making it user-friendly and easily identifiable.
Another way of marking wire is hot stamping, which entails a process similar to that of a typewriter. A character-shaped “head” strikes a colored tape, causing the chosen character(s) to appear on the wire.
Installation Solutions: Twisting, Braiding, and Cut & Strip
Many OEMs need paired wire in the manufacturing process. Grouping single- or multi-conductor cables into various configurations can cut installation time dramatically. It allows wires to lie together, which in turn makes working with them easier.
In order to create paired wire, a process known as twisting must occur. Twisting entwines multiple wires and arranges them tightly next to each other. Two, three, and even up to eight wires can be twisted together.
The process of putting wire ends into a drill and twisting the wire is one home-grown twisting method that’s still practiced on the production floor. It will get the job done to some extent, but it will not remove the natural twist in each wire. This means that if the wire is cut into small lengths, it will not stay twisted together.
Another problem with this method is the wire acquires dirt and grit on the production floor. The dirt could transfer to the finished product, which could then pose major problems. Twisting using a dedicated wire twisting machine is the only way to get a good lay to the wires.
One process that helps add protection against abrasion in harsh environments is braiding.
Braiding is a process in which small strands are woven together on top of a wire or cable for added protection. At the start of the process, numerous spools, also called “Bobbins,” of very small gauge wire (32-36 AWG) are inserted into a wire braiding machine.
The bobbins are each placed in a precise location within the machine and the ends of each bobbin are pulled to the top of the braiding machine. Next, the bobbins are subjected to a spinning or circular weaving motion, while a wire or cable is pulled up through the center of the bobbins. As the synchronized process commences, a weave or braid is manufactured over the cable. Finally, the finished product is drawn out of the braid machine onto a larger spool or payoff.
Cut & Strip
Having your wire cut and stripped saves time and money and prevents excessive waste. Let’s say you need 1000 four-inch pieces of wire to install in printers that you manufacture. For each piece, you need .5 inches of wire exposed on the ends. Instead of having your factory workers manually cut each piece off the reel and then remove the insulation from the ends, have your value-added manufacturer complete the process for you.
The cut and strip process starts at one end of a cut and strip machine where a reel is held in what is called a “payoff.” The machine operator enters the overall length and desired cut and strip measurements for the pieces. Next, the wire is fed through a set of pressure-sensitive wheels that hold the wire tautly.
Then the wire is passed through a pair of blades that strip the insulation, as it can sense where the bare wire begins. The wire is then pulled to the end to make the length cut. Finally, it is pulled backward slightly in order to make the final ‘strip’ cut. The pieces of insulation cut for the strip can be left on the end of the wire to prevent the strands from fraying. This detached piece of insulation is called the slug.
The final cut and stripped wire is dropped into a bin. The machine will finish the process for the total amount of wire length the machine operator entered at the beginning.
Labeling Solutions: UL/CSA Labels, RFID, Custom Labels, Bar-Coding
UL & CSA Labels
Wire and cable products can be sent pre-labeled with UL and CSA tags. Use of these tags ensures that products will arrive at the delivery-point already marked to meet internal classifications, aiding in proper identification and distribution upon receipt.
RFID & Government Labels
RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) is another Value-Added option to pre-label products for ease of receipt. These labels are encoded with a radio frequency that can be “read” by a transponder. RFID labels provide more than the basic information offered by a standard print label or even a bar-code, and can be read at long distances.
Value-added manufacturers will also produce Government labels. These specify any government-level classifications of Mil-Spec wires and cables, and can aid in tracking and inventory.
Custom Shipping Labels
Custom shipping labels include the specific information a company requires to meet their standards right on the package. The types of information likely to be found on a custom shipping label, aside from the shipping address, include Part Number, Supplier Part Number, PO Number, Lot Number, and Date.
This service will print the needed information right on the shipping label in the bar-code standard the company uses. There are two general types of bar-codes: linear, which is used more often, and matrix, which holds more data. Common linear formats are UPC, generally used in retail, and MSI, generally used in warehouse inventory.
Packaging Solutions: Special Packaging/Reel Sizes
Wire is heavy, consumes space, and is hard to keep in inventory. In addition, OEMs worry about the costs in set-up and handling of preprocessed and post-processed wire. Many OEMs that regularly use wire have gotten special reels or spools in order to efficiently use storage area, maintain an accurate inventory, and keep costs to a minimum.
Wire and cable distributors that cater to OEMs and harness houses have developed unique ways to store wire. One such way is to use large bulk Drum “reels.” Drums are commonly constructed of cardboard or pressed paper (with a center core of the same material) and metal rings around the top and bottom. When wire is ready to be stored, it is laid into the Drum using a circular motion that allows for easy removal. Storage capacity in any given Drum can be thousands of feet, depending on the gauge of the wire. However, if the Drum is rolled or damaged, the wire may become almost impossible to remove.
Reels and spools come in many different sizes and configurations for use with varying wire types. For example, large 6 to 8 foot tall wooden slatted reels hold large gauge power cable. Many wire manufacturers use 2,500 ft to 5,000 ft spools for hook-up wire.
Small gauge wire may be spooled on a 10-inch plastic spool that has a center core length of 5 to 6 inches and holds up to 10,000 ft. Certain factors determine the spool size you will need; one important factor is how the wire will be used in the manufacturing process.
If the manufacturer usually cuts their wire by automated machine, the spool size or Drum size may be critical. For example, using an automated machine, a large Drum of wire can be gone in as little as 30 minutes, depending on the length of the cut. Cost is another factor. As an added benefit for a large reel size or Drum Packs, many distributors offer discounts on bulk reels.
With all of their unique abilities, value-added services conveniently customize while offering solutions for precise wire and cable specifications. As an additional advantage, purchasing wire and cable from a value-added manufacturer proves to be cost-effective because everything you need can be completed in a single location by one vendor.
Electrical wire and cable distributors have the tools to prepare wire for the buyer’s convenience. Whatever the service, the value-added distributor offers the ability to custom-order inventory to fit individual process and storage needs. This translates into better usage of time and space, and that further translates into profit.
Tim Flynn is the President of Allied Wire and Cable, a leading value-added distributor of electrical wire, cable, tubing, connectors, and accessories, headquartered in Collegeville, PA. Tim, a graduate of Drexel University, has been President of AWC for its entire 20+ years in business, and he has guided the rapid growth of the customer-focused, relationship-based company. For more about AWC, please visit: Allied Wire and Cable, Inc.
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