Product Focus: Wire & Cable

By By Barry Rosenberg | November 1, 2010
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Wire and cable for aerospace and defense applications are often seen as commodity products, and, as such, manufacturers and distributors of these products have to please a broad spectrum of customers when it comes to characteristics such as weight, size and flexibility.

“As you see the increasing demand for higher-performance products that are lighter, have better attenuation and higher speed, there is a lot of opportunity for potential development in the industry,” said Scott Allen, marketing manager for PIC Wire & Cable, of Sussex, Wis. “In the last couple years there hasn’t been a whole lot of development because of the economy but we expect that to change.

“We are seeing a lot of companies pushing the technological envelope on current designs for cables, be they coaxial cables or high-speed data cables. However, the lower-loss, higher-frequency goal is a challenge given the current technology of materials and manufacturing processes. The industry is working to combine the two and figure out ways to innovate and meet the requirements.”

The industry Allen refers to is acknowledged to be in the early stages of developing new wiring systems, and many R&D efforts that have as their goal lighter weight, smaller physical size and higher reliability are focusing on insulation systems for wire and cable. The aerospace industry really hasn’t seen a new insulation system brought to market in the last 25 to 30 years, which means lots of companies are looking to make the next leap forward. Counted in that group are companies like Tyco Electronics, Nexans, Judd Wire, Thermax and Draka.

“Right now this work is in the lab stages, where the various manufacturers have their own ideas of what could/should be brought forward for the governing bodies to embrace and start working on specifications, standardization, performance criteria and testing,” said Bob Scott, senior wire and cable product manager at A.E. Petsche, Arlington, Texas, a distributor of wire and cable products.

“If you want to use an industry buzzword (for the technology being developed), it would be the new, dual-layer smooth insulation systems,” Scott said. “For example, one of the wires of choice for airframe applications is PTFE Teflon-based insulation that is wrapped over a conductor. There is an edge on the wire that can catch as you pull harnesses through for the airframe. There are also issues related to the manufacturing process because it is slower to tape wrap than it is to extrude.

“Tape wrap is popular in Boeing aircraft, in particular, and the drive will be to go to extruded dual-layer systems of thinner walls for weight savings, bundle diameter and higher performance.”

More Throughput

Another clear trend is the proliferation of high-definition display screens for in-flight entertainment, particularly in business aviation, where operators want to get the full number of pixels out of their hi-def television installations. For aviation, that means ruggedizing the HDMI cables typically used for commercial televisions operating at 720p and 1080p.

“There are a lot of commercial, electronic systems that are being fed into aerospace, including HDMI hookup cables, USB connections and Ethernet for new products and aerospace applications,” said Allen. “It is more of a commercial off-the-shelf approach, instead of the old days where avionics manufacturers would start from scratch and make their own products and not use components from other industries.”

For example Emteq, based in New Berlin, Wis., is in the final qualification stages of offering an HDMI cable solution to the aerospace industry, according to Kerry Stuckart, product manager of coaxial cables and equipment trays. “In addition to the cable, we are working on a ruggedized HDMI connector and we anticipate product launch in the next few weeks,” she said.

The continued drive to bring high-speed data capabilities to the cockpit and cabin is facilitating development of high-performance coaxial cable used for phase critical or high-frequency avionics systems.

“When it comes to coax, high frequency is defined differently by each customer,” said Stuckart. “For some customers, it is defined by the system, which means that they can use the exact same product for both non-high frequency and high frequency applications. We define it as having either tight phase match requirements and/or ultra-high-frequency requirements above 18GHz. High-performance cable is different than Mil-C-17 coax as it’s designed for a specific system or need and is not designed to be a commodity type product.”

In other recent product developments, Emteq has changed the jacket type on several of its coaxial cables to better facilitate laser marketing for identification.

“This eliminates customers having to handle heat shrink labels, and reduces the labor time associated with putting them on the cables and shrinking them down,” said Tony Forst, Emteq applications engineer. “Having a laser markable jacket allows them to run the cables through a laser-marking machine to put their wiring identifications right on the cables.”

There is a move afoot by standards-setting organizations like the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) to set new standards for data cables, which, for the most part, do not exist or are inadequate for today’s avionics systems and other devices. What that means is that right now there is a specification from company A or B, but no industry standard that is independent and not part of a manufacturers’ catalog offerings.

“We have seen an expanding interest this year with safety regulations, particularly with regards to material temperature and flammability or fire resistance ratings,” said Allen.

To provide guidance on wiring standards and installation procedures, organizations like ASTM International and its Committee F39 are developing standards such as F2639, Standard Practice for Design, Alteration, and Certification of Airplane Electrical Wiring Systems. Document F2639 reads that coaxial and triaxial cable with low-temperature dielectrics and jackets (-40°C to +85°C) such as polyethylene are not to be used. F2639 also bans bare copper conductors.

“There are temperatures as low as 85°C being used, and we still are still using them to some extent today,” said Allen, who added that FAA is also studying means to improve fire test methods for aircraft wiring, and recently described new test procedures for burning and flammability of cables.

“In general, this is an industry discussion. For the most part, on the higher end products that are offered in the industry, this probably doesn’t have a huge effect” Allen said.

“Many of the materials in use today are compliant with this, but there are some that are not. So we think this will drive some differentiation (between companies manufacturing wire and cable). It comes down the materials selection you are using in the products. The FEP (extruded fluorinated ethylene propylene) jackets instead of polyurethane make a difference in terms of their ability to meet those requirements.”

As a result, the industry trend is toward a mandate for requiring higher temperature, more-fire-resistant materials as a standard. At the same time, the requirement also calls for equally robust products that are lighter with lower electrical loss/lower attenuation.

So can the industry develop thinner and lighter jackets that meet the latest and more stringent burn requirements? Those two qualities may or may not be mutually exclusive. But according to Allen, “we think they are significant significant in the respect they may have on the technologies that will be needed to meet demands in the future.”

He added: “One of the challenges is discovering what other materials and technologies are out that can allow us to make the leap down that path into lighter weight, lower loss products. We are doing some investigating into that ourselves.”

Near Term

In the coming year, industry observers expect to see a little of everything, either for sale in the product catalog or under accelerated development in the lab. They expect to see an increased push for fiber optic cable that they expect will reduce weight and the size of coaxial bundles, while also increasing throughput.

The interest in finding and qualifying different materials for inner cable construction and outer jacketing remains as strong as ever.

In addition, the industry is heavily invested in Ethernet transmission technology, so pressure will continue to be applied to this area with respect to increasing throughput, in particular.

There are also wire and cable trends related to how industry manufacturers and suppliers are reorganizing themselves to serve the aerospace market.

“From a supplier standpoint in the industry, we are seeing a continued movement in the way they procure their products and build their various apparatus,” said A.E. Petsche’s Scott. “We see more just-in-time programs on the supply side, as well as more avionics companies outsourcing lower level work like fabrication of sub-components such as wire kits to the producers of the product rather than assembling the wire kits themselves.”

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

Market Moves

Following are some recent developments announced by manufacturers and distributors of avionics wire and cable products.

➤ Carlisle Interconnect Technologies, of St. Augustine, Fla., in August signed a six-year supply agreement with Labinal, a SAFRAN Group company, to provide general purpose, data bus, fiber optic and specialty wire and cable for Labinal’s North America programs.
“We see tremendous growth with Labinal, particularly on the Boeing 787 program and this agreement demonstrates our commitment to partnering with them for the future,” said John Berlin, president of Carlisle Interconnect Technologies.  
In July, the company signed a five-year supply agreement with Boeing to provide general purpose, data bus and specialty wire and cable for the latter’s commercial airplane models. The agreement was the fourth consecutive long-term supply agreement between the two companies.
In addition, in January, Carlisle Interconnect announced two long-term supply agreements with Airbus to supply DR-style airframe wire and cable and ARINC 600 trays for Airbus aircraft.
➤ JKM Manufacturing, of Eufaula, Ala., a manufacturer of wire and cable products for the aerospace industry, is partnering with SEA Wire and Cable, of Madison, Ala., on a lean manufacturing initiative, the companies announced in April.         
The companies said they will identify and eliminate waste in their collaborative and administrative processes, with the goal of improving responsiveness to customers’ needs and lowering costs.
“SEA Wire and Cable, Inc., has been a strategic partner and supplier to JKM for many years,” JKM’s CEO Chad B. White said. “Our collaborating with this key supplier along with our key customers, will decrease the time it takes to bid programs.
“We’re looking at our customers, our suppliers and ourselves and working toward a common goal of supporting the warfighter’s mission critical goals,” White said.
➤ W. L. Gore & Associates, Newark, Del.,in October introduced a RG coaxial cable for aircraft communication and navigation systems. The company said the cables are as much as 20 percent lighter, with a 15 percent smaller diameter than other RG cables. The cable meets MIL-T-81790 and EN 3475-503 requirements.
In July, W. L. Gore & Associates entered into a strategic partnership with A. E. Petsche to distribute GORE FireWire cable products for the F-35 Lightning II program. According to the announcement, made during the Farnborough Airshow, A. E. Petsche will manage the requirements of all program partners to ensure optimum stocking levels and timely distribution.
A.E. Petsche provides logistics services supporting interconnect products to the aviation industry. The company will stock F-35 products in the United States as well as in Europe, meeting demand through its ZERO-BASE Inventory Program.
➤ A.E. Petsche, based in Dallas, announced plans in August to double its supply of cable and wire to General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) for use in unmanned aircraft systems.
“The provided ‘just-in-time’ service package and associated cable and wire products will contribute to GA-ASI’s aggressive goals for improved efficiencies from its supply base, and help lower total cost,” said Joe Denny, southwest regional sales manager for A.E. Petsche.


A.E. Petsche Co.
AeroFlite Enterprises
Air Harness Manufacturing
AirWorks Inc.
Ametek Aerospace
Amphenol Corp.
Brand Rex
Calmont Wire & Cable, Inc.
Carlisle Interconnect Technologies/ECS
Chippewa Aerospace
Christensen Industries
Cirris Systems Corp.
Co-Operative Industries Aerospace
Dallas Avionics Inc.
Data Bus Products
DeCrane Aerospace
DIT-MCO International
Eaton Corp.
Electro Enterprises
Glenair Inc.
Habia Cable
H.S. Electronics Inc.
InterConnect Wire
JKM Manufacturing
kSARIA Corp.
Marine Air Supply
MilesTek Corp.
Phoenix Logistics
PIC Wire & Cable
SEA Wire & Cable
Teledyne Reynolds
Thermal Memory Ltd.
Tri-Star Electronics International
Tyco Electronics
Vermillion, Inc.
W.L. Gore
Woven Electronics Corp.
Zippertubing Co.

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