Business & GA, Commercial, Military

Product Focus: Wire and Cable

By Emily Feliz | November 1, 2007
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Wire and cable products are tasked with providing electricity and high-speed data transmissions to a variety of components throughout the cabin and the cockpit.

Companies are responding to growing customer demands for faster speeds and lighter weights and high-tech applications with new products and capabilities.

In August, EMTEQ, based in New Berlin, Wis., introduced its PFLX275-075-01 cable product, described as the industry’s first and only low loss, aircraft grade cable designed to support and enhance high-definition television (HDTV) picture quality. The 75 ohm, high-performance coaxial cable, designed per Mil-C-17 guidelines, meets burn and flammability specifications.

EMTEQ also added a low-weight, 1 gigabit/CAT 5E/100 Base-T Ethernet cable, which it said it developed in response to industry demand for in-flight communications. The cable supports 1-gigabit transmission up to 80 meters and reduces or eliminates near-end cross talk at 10 and 100 MHz.

"Corporate customers desire the same amenities and entertainment optics on their airplane as in their homes," said Michelle Neira, EMTEQ marketing manager.

"So items like seat heaters, HDTV, in-flight entertainment (IFE) are in greater demand than ever before. Several of the specialty cables we’ve developed are in response to that. People are installing these systems because they want to feel like they’re at home in their airplane," she said.

In July, Tyco Electronics, Harrisburg, Pa., released its Raychem "Quadlite" cable, which accommodates high-speed networks while sparing the weight. Primary applications for the twinax cable are IFE and other aircraft data network applications. Quadlite cable also is capable of linking avionics, navigation, air-traffic control and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) audio systems, the company said.

"With diameters as small as 0.166 inch and weight as low as 22.9 pounds per thousand feet, Quadlite cables supply big performance in a small package," the company said.

Tensolite, a St. Augustine, Fla.-based manufacturer of wire and cable products, has a line of IFE data cables to support protocols such as ARINC 629, Ethernet/100 base T, IEEE 1394 and Fibre Channel.

Manufacturers say customers want these new capabilities, without sacrificing data transmission speed, while also reducing aircraft weight and costs, making for a difficult balancing act by avionics wire and cable manufacturers.

"When considering a new Ethernet or RF coaxial cable, our main objectives are to decrease weight, maximize electrical performance and make the cable easy to terminate and install," said Tony Forst, EMTEQ RF specialist. "We have to stay competitive at all times because the market is continually evolving."

As cable technologies such as USB and other communications and cable evolve in the consumer marketplace, the key is to adapt to those products, increasing the temperature, burn, smoke and flame testing thresholds, for the aerospace and avionics market.

"There’s no ARINC 429 in the commercial world," said Ben Hackett, sales engineer with PIC Wire & Cable, based in Sussex, Wis. "But there is Ethernet. So the trend is moving more toward what you can get off the shelf and apply to the avionics."

PIC Wire and Cable offers a series of coaxial and Ethernet cables for commercial, business and military aviation applications.

Fiber optic cable

Fiber optic cable, companies say, will offer all the capabilities of traditional and Ethernet cables for certain data applications, but can do so more efficiently, using lighter cable. Companies are entering the aviation market with a variety of fiber optic cable and connector products.

Tyco has a line of fiber optic connectors and cables that use Expanded Beam technology, which physically expands and collimates the transmission signal into an optical beam more than 14 times its original diameter and then refocuses it back down onto the core of the receiving fiber.

The company said this approach provides ease of alignment and low sensitivity to thermal changes and contamination.

kSaria Corp., based in Lawrence, Mass., develops and manufactures fiber optic cable assemblies for the military.

Last year, the company won a contract to help accelerate the U.S. Navy’s migration to fiber optic technology in mission-critical aeronautical applications.

kSaria also is developing an automated field service tool designed to speed cleaning of multi-channel fiber optic connectors used in harsh environments.

QPC Fiber Optics, based in San Clemente, Calif., also has a line of military fiber optic cable assemblies for use in airborne systems and IFE applications.

W.L. Gore, Newark, Del., manufactures fiber optic cables for military, aerospace and communication applications. The company said its fiber optic cable uses a buffer system that effectively decouples the optical fiber from other cable elements. As a result, optical performance of a Gore cable closely approximates that of a bare optical fiber.

Gore offers fiber optic ribbon cable that addresses both military and aerospace system requirements. When compared to telecom-grade products, Gore Mil-Aero Fiber Optic Ribbon Cable offers improvements in operating temperature range, minimum bend radius, chemical resistance, and overall ruggedness without comprising size or flexibility. Gore’s 1.8 mm Simplex Cable adheres to aerospace standards without compromising weight and ruggedness.

"Fiber optic cable is an extreme amount lighter. The data travel faster since it’s like sending a light through a cable. It performs a lot better with lower loss. Compared to standard coax, fiber will be an impressive upgrade," said Forst.

Despite all the benefits, fiber optic cable has drawbacks as well, including an unproven track record in the aviation aftermarket and the availability of fewer manufacturers and products applicable to aerospace. Also, fiber optic cables are only appropriate for certain onboard applications such as IFE.

"The most difficult thing with fiber optics is getting a fiber optic company to manufacture something in the harsh environment that requires that high temperature," Hackett said. "There’s a learning curve there for people installing it and handling it and running it through the airplane.

"When you look at fiber optics in the commercial world, you’re looking at millions of feet. When you look at fiber optics in the aerospace world, you’re looking at 10,000 feet, so it’s hard to get fiber optic companies to spend a lot of time developing a product," Hackett said.

While fiber optics is expected to be a big piece of the market in the future, aerospace wire and cable companies are waiting to see how the technology evolves until deciding how to participate.

"I think the verdict is still out on (fiber optics), but it will come. There’s enough other kinds of cabling that it won’t replace for a long time," Hackett said.

Also, the evolution of wireless communications in the cabin could impact the roll-out of fiber optics in aerospace.

"There’s a lot of discussion about wireless communications. I think that will evolve too. If you’re running an Ethernet cable to every seat and now you’ve got a wireless access point, you don’t have to run an Ethernet cable to every seat, so that will change things," Hackett said.

Avionics Magazine’s Product Focus is a monthly feature that examines some of the latest product offerings in different market segments of the avionics industry. It does not represent a comprehensive survey of all products in these markets.

Distributor Responds to Military Demand

Distributor SEA Wire and Cable is enjoying robust growth, doubling in size in the last four years, thanks to increased demand for military products.

The company, based in Madison, Ala., said it expects 20 to 30 percent growth for the next four to five years, particularly in its military product line, as the harsh environments of Iraq and Afghanistan take their toll on aircraft wire and cable systems.

"Helicopters and planes that are used over there… are having to be stripped and rewired on a fairly regular basis because of how harsh the environment is, and that’s driving a lot of our market right now," said General Manager Marty Clark.

"In this war environment, I think the helicopters and things of that nature are going through a two-to-three month rotation. After they’ve been in service for two to three months, they have to be pulled back off and cleaned out before they’re put back in service."

SEA Wire and Cable, which describes itself as a high-transaction company, takes large spools of wire and cable from manufacturers and respools, stripes, cuts or marks the product as required by end users on a just-in-time basis. The company reports shipping about 12,000 items a month, which translates to about 20 million feet of wire and cable.

"Every bit of that is handled, which is a big deal," Clark said.

The company has 40 million feet of wire and cable stored in its 45,000-square-foot warehouse, with about 6,000 different SKU, or stock keeping unit, numbers, equating to $7 million in inventory.

Distribution models haven’t changed, according to Clark. However, the trend toward outsourcing logistics and warehousing has increased as companies focus more on their core competencies.

"We’re shipping more items on a more regular basis to fit [customers’] production needs so inventory hits their warehousing environment, goes straight into production and out the door as a finished product as new product is coming in the back door," Clark said. —Emily Feliz


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AeroFlite Enterprises

Air Harness Manufacturing

AirWorks Inc.

Ametek Aerospace

Brand Rex

Chippewa Aerospace

Christensen Industries

Cirris Systems Corp.

Dallas Avionics Inc.

Data Bus Products

DIT-MCO International

Eaton Corp.



Glenair Inc.

Habia Cable

Hollingsead International

H.S. Electronics Inc.

InterConnect Wire

kSARIA Corp.

Marine Air Supply

MilesTek Corp.

Northrop Grumman

PIC Wire & Cable


QPC Fiber Optics


Richardson Electronics

SEA Wire & Cable

Tensolite Co.

Tri-Star Electronics International

Tyco Electronics

W.L. Gore

Zippertubing Co.

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