Flat Ribbon Cable Assembly: Why you Should Prefer Flat Ribbon Cables Over Regular Wires?

The first shape you think of as you hear the word “cable” is a long cylindrical shape object. However, not every cable is like that. Instead, for some applications, manufacturers need flat wires that are flexible and ideal for closed spaces. For that, engineers came up with the concept of “flat ribbon cable assembly.” Let’s dig into it.

What are flat ribbon cable assemblies?

A flat ribbon wire is a rectangle-shaped cable made of many parallel wires. It’s made for IDC (insulation displacement contact) connectors with mass termination. Electrical properties, like conductivity, inductance, time lag, interferences, and attenuation, stay the same when the distance between the conductors and the geometry stays. You can find them in things like CD drives, hard drives, and floppy drives inside a computer.

Features & Benefits of flat cable assembly

  • Best for Closed Spaces: Ribbon cables are ideal when it comes to wiring in confined spaces like small electronics and computer gadgets,
  • Offers EMI protection: Flat ribbon wires provide better shielding from external interferences than simple wires.
  • Lesser Assembling Error: Ribbon cables are flexible so that they can bend easily in the corners. Also, it ties up neatly so that the wiring errors eliminate significantly.

Disadvantages of flat cable assembly

Some older computers, like the Apple II and BBC Micro series, could also connect to the outside world. The ribbon-like form makes it hard to manage the wires, especially when you have a bunch of them. Because of this, round cables replace the ribbon cords for peripheral devices. Also, they are common inside computers.

Color-coding of flat ribbon cables

Manufacturers paint a red stripe along one side of a cable to help prevent accidental reversals of connections. According to common practice, you should attach pin 1 on the connector to the side with the stripe. However, this technique of identifying is not as useful. You need to terminate individual wires or a small group separately. Instead, it’s best suited for cables that have two or more IDC plugs with every connection connecting to every wire.

Ribbon-cable makers developed “rainbow ribbon cable” with a specific pattern of colors based on the common resistor color code (e.g., pin-1, 11, and 21 are brown, and pin 2, 12, and 22 are red, etc.). Users frequently refer to it as “hippie cable” because of its unusual look.

Flat ribbon cable in computer

Caption: Flat ribbon cable in computer

Sizes of flat ribbon cables

Most ribbon cables are described by two figures: the distance between the conductors, or “pitch,” and the number of conducting wires, or “ways.” Most connectors have a distance of 0.05 inch (1.27 mm), which lets them have two rows of pins with a spacing of 0.1 inches apart (2.54 mm). You can find these connectors in much different equipment, especially to connect things inside a casing. For example, floppy discs or custom parallel ATA cables.

Most of the time, the conductors have few values because standard connectors are hard to come by. Sometimes a wider width is used and then stripped down to what is needed. For example, a 26-way IDC cord can quickly take a wire out to make a 25-way cable (before adding the connectors). Most of the time, the wire would be stranded copper wire with an AWG of 22, 24, or 26.

There are also cables with a finer and a coarser pitch. For example, the pitch of the ATA interface cord used for ULTRA-ATA hard disc interfaces is 0.025 inches (0.64 mm). Laptops and other portable electronics have finer pitches that can be as small as 0.3 mm. However, most portable electronics use flexible flat cables (FFC).

Connectors of flat ribbon cables

Ribbon cables are mostly used for mass termination to IDC connectors with sharp, forked contacts that the cable must be pressed against to connect. Typically, termination occurs at both ends of the cable. However, in rare cases, like in wire swapping, you will terminate one end of IDC. The other end would use a more conventional termination method like a crimping or solder-bucket connection. Moreover, you can take apart and reuse the IDC connectors on occasion, but this is not something you can easily do.

The most common IDC termination methods for wire include:

  • PCB transition headers 
  • BT224 connectors,
  • D-subminiature connectors, 
  • micro ribbon connectors, 
  • DIN 41612 connectors, and
  • DIL headers

Types of Ribbon Cable Assemblies

Some common types of ribbon cable assembly include.

Multi-wire ribbon bus connector

Caption: Multi-wire ribbon bus connector

Twisted Flat Ribbon Cable

Twisted ribbon cable differs from most cables because they twist and then join the pairs of conductors together. This type of twisted cable differs from twisted paired cables because it has sections that are not twisted. Thus, the standard IDC ribbon cabling methods can terminate the connections and PCB headers.

Rainbow Ribbon Cable

Rainbow ribbon cables are built just like regular ribbon cables. However, their default colors make them easier to categorize and spot. In some cases, it is possible to separate the ends of this structure for individual severance.

Standard Ribbon Cable 

Grey in color, the typical ribbon cable is employed for its convenience in mass termination.

Round To Flat Ribbon Cable

The round-to-flat ribbon cables are an uncommon form of ribbon design. The cable begins as a bundle of circular structures and then unwinds for use in various applications. This architecture is ideal for restricted areas, yet the final segment still enjoys the advantages of the ribbon design.

Bonded Ribbon Cable

There are three distinct cable options for this product:

  • Coaxial Cable
  • Multi-conductor Cable
  • Single Hook-up Wire

Because of the bonding, these cables can maintain a consistent design from one side to the other. Bonding eliminates a lot of adaptabilities and can be challenging in confined spaces. Still, it also simplifies mass terminating with many different cable products. The bonded ribbon wire arranges differently than standard ribbon cables since its dimensions are not standard. After you’ve decided on an item, our crew will use adhesive glue to permanently bond the pieces together. Bonding serves the same organizational, identifying, and bulk-terminating functions as the other constructs.

Custom Ribbon Cable Assemblies at Cloom

Flat ribbon cable inside the casket

Caption: Flat ribbon cable inside the casket

At Cloom, we offer the following ribbon cables for unaffected performance even in extreme conditions.

Flat ribbon cable assembly: High-Performance Flat-Ribbon Cable

At Cloom, we offer the following ribbon cables for unaffected performance even in extreme conditions.

High-Performance Flat-Ribbon Cable

Due to the inherent limitations of PVC and TPE cables, signal disruption is common under extreme conditions. Finding a high-performing ribbon cable that could withstand chemicals, heat, abrasion, and bending without breaking was essential. Our High-Performance Flat-Ribbon Cables are best for severe conditions, where conventional PVC or TPE cables would quickly deteriorate.

Hybrid Ribbon Cable

The need for power, data transmission, and coaxial cables in one application, combined with space and condition constraints, is common in many fields, including commercial aircraft, factory automation, and medicine. Our Hybrid Ribbon Cables utilize a compact design that incorporates wires of varying sizes and types, such as coaxial and insulated parallel pairs, into a single cable.

Intermittent-Bonding Ribbon Cable

Increased adaptability, simple termination, 180-degree turn at isolated portions, and neat wire arrangement are all benefits of the intermittent-bonded, flat cable. It also allows for automatic or semi-automatic termination, which greatly improves termination effectiveness, decreases human error, and saves time in mass manufacturing. 

Conclusion

Ribbon cables are a popular choice for areas with limited space options. With its flexibility and protection level, it can transfer signals anywhere. Here at Cloom, we offer wiring harness solutions so that you don’t have to worry about perfection. To get the work done, contact us now.

Hey, I am John, General manager of Cloom and OurPCB.

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