Ribbon Cable: The Ultimate Guide You Need to Know

The ribbon cable has existed for more than fifty years and has applications in various fields, and it has multiple types, sizes, and colors. However, this ribbon cable is sometimes mistaken to be a flexible flat cable (FFC).

We will guide you to understand the difference between ribbon cables and FFCs, and so on. Help you choose the best ribbon cable for your project.

1. Understanding A Ribbon Cable

A ribbon cable is a flat rectangular shaped cable having a series of conductors arranged parallel.  Also, it is sometimes regarded as a multi-wire planar cable and draws its name from a ribbon. 

Ribbon Cable


Ribbon Cable

This cable is flat and tender, and it affords it to bend and fit in almost all compartments. Their flexibility also allows for more space where they are in use – and reduces overheating.

1.1 Description of Ribbon Cable Assembly

There is color coding that comes with ribbon cables. It aims to prevent reverse connections from reoccurring. For example, one edge of the ribbon bears a red stripe. This edge with the pin connects to pin 1. This color helped in knowing when the connection starts. Also, this color coding aids in identifying the different sets of connectors.

Also, we can describe the size of the ribbon cables by two numbers:

The pitch or spacing of conductors

The number of conductors or ways

The 0.05-inch spacing happens to be the most used ribbon cable, and thisthisthis size also allows for a two-row connector having a pin spacing of 0.1 inches. This type of ribbon cable is helpful in floppy disk drive cables and custom parallel ATA cables.

On the other hand, the number of connectors have values like 4, 6, 8, 9, 10, 14, 15, 16, 18, 20, 24, 25, 26, 34, 37, 40, 50, 60, 64 and 80.

Ribbon Cable Connector Showing Contact Points


Ribbon Cable Connector Showing Contact Points

1.2 Benefits of the Ribbon Cable Assembly

Ribbon cables are flat and flexible, and these features afford them the ability to fit comfortably well in any compartment. Also, the fact that ribbon cables are lightweight contributes very little to the device’s overall weight, and it explains why you see so many connectors in a computer but weigh less.

Another benefit is the reduction in overheating of devices. They can fold in a compartment and make more space, and these rooms are channels through which air can flow. Therefore, the device is less prone to failure due to overheating.

Furthermore, the ribbon cable assembly is a good conductor. They possess good electrical qualities, and these qualities make them able to carry a larger current capacity.

Lastly, using ribbon cables eliminates the stress associated with troubleshooting bulk wires. They are organized already in a single piece.

IDC Ribbon Cable

Insulation-displacement contact (IDC) has another name to be Insulation-piercing contact (IPC). This process involves the forcefully inserting of a selectively sharpened blade or blades through the insulation. In this case, there is no need to strip the conductor bare before connection.

Ribbon Cable with a Terminator


Ribbon Cable with a Terminator

2. Ribbon Cable Types

Ribbon cables, like other cables, have different types. Hence, we shall consider the five types of ribbon cables, which include:

Rainbow Ribbon Cable

Rainbow ribbon cables are similar to the standard ribbon cables available. But this time, the wires have, by default, rainbow coloring. The rainbow coloring helps with easy identification and organization. Also, similar to the resistor color doing, where Brown can depict pin 1. It works as with the red stripe on one edge of a standard ribbon cable

Twisted Flat Ribbon Cable

The twisted flat ribbon cable is different from the standard ribbon cable.  In contrast, they have two pairs of their conductor twisted and bonded. One benefit of twisted flat ribbon cables is that it reduces cross talk.

Standard Ribbon Cable

The standard ribbon cable comes with the ease of mass termination. A typical way to know one is by its color – They are grey.

Round to Flat Ribbon Cable

This unique type of ribbons cable combines mass termination ability with the ease of discrete wire cable. The conductors are folded into a circular frame and are split apart at the other end, and it allows them to ease access to use. Generally, this type of ribbon cable is suitable for areas with tight space.  

Bonded Ribbon Cable

Bonded ribbon cables are organized and do not seem scattered about the place. However, it is also less flexible than other types, making its application difficult in tight spaces. One exciting advantage of this cable is that it provides straightforward mass termination with a range of cabling products. In addition, Bonded ribbon cables are of 3 types: Single Hook-Up wire, Coaxial cable, and Multi-Conductor cable.

3. Ribbon Cable Connectors

Generally, manufacturers make various types of ribbon cables having mass termination. This design favors mainly IDC connectors. As we explained earlier, these connectors have rows of sharp contacts applied on both cable ends. These connectors pierce through the cable insulation and make contact with the terminals. However, on other occasions, one end may have a solder-bucket connection or be crimped.

The following are the most popular ribbon cable connectors available:

BT224 Connector

BT224 connectors have plugs and sockets. Also, they have high-quality gold-plated contacts. In addition, the pins come with long locking levers. This lever serves to lock or unlock the mated connectors. 

D-Subminiature Connector

The D subminiature connector is an interface connector with a metal shell. It has five different pin counts and different terminations and has a wide range of applications.

Micro Ribbon Connector

Also known as miniature ribbon connectors, they have only two rows of contacts parallel inside a shielded case. It is needful to say that these contacts are not pins. But, they are flat metals called ribbon contacts. As with D-sub connectors, they have sockets that come with a locking mechanism to hold connections firm.

DIN 41612 Connector

DIN 41612 connectors enable connections from cards to boards like motherboards in bus-based systems. Also, they have contacts arranged in one or more rows with labeling like a, b, c.

PCB Transition Header

Like BT244 connectors, the PCB transition header has two rows of pins. In addition, PCB transition headers can be attached to a printed circuit board directly by soldering.

DIL Headers

Dual in-line IL header, as regularly called, functions to connect two PCBs. With the correct socket, the connection is possible between boards. Alternatively, soldering them directly to PCB is another way to ensure harmony. Applications of DIL include computer power supplies.

4. Application of Ribbon Cable

Owing to the benefits and features of ribbon cables, we see them in almost all consumer electrons. Hence, portable devices like laptops, tablets, and mobile phones use the flat flexible cable (FFC).

Ribbon Cable used in Mobile Phones


Ribbon Cable used in Mobile Phones

Also, we see ribbon cables in use in the automobile industry, aviation, and space.
Also, military-based gadgets use this type of cable as lightweight and transmit signals efficiently and quickly.

5. How to Choose Ribbon Cable

We will focus this chapter on the things to consider before choosing a suitable ribbon cable. They are:

Pitch

Pitch is a term that describes how close the contacts are to each other in a ribbon cable or connector. For example, 1mm, and 2mm.

Flat Ribbon Cable showing Contacts


Flat Ribbon Cable showing Contacts

Flexibility

Ribbon cables are flexible by default. However, its degree of flexibility varies by type, and it is where you might want a custom ribbon cable with more flexibility.

Extreme temperatures

Extreme temperatures do not affect ribbon cables. However, it should go along with a silicone jacket to operate efficiently in unfavorable conditions.

Resistance to fire

When considering this ribbon cable feature, you will be mindful of the equipment’s safety and place.

6. FFC Cable –Flexible Flat Cable Selection Guide

6.1 What is FFC?

FFC stands for Flexible Flat Cables, and you can find them on most compact devices like laptops and phones. Generally, FFC is a smaller type of ribbon cable.

Flat Ribbon Cables in use


Flat Ribbon Cables in use

6.2 FFC of Specification

There are five types of FFC specifications. They are:

Pitch: Examples of pitches are 1.00 mm, 1.25 mm, 1.27 mm, and more.

Types: FFCs are Type 1/Type A and Type 2, or Type D. The difference here is that type A cables have contacts on one side and at both ends, and in contrast, Type D has connections on both sides and at both ends of the line.

Conductors Size: You can determine the size by measuring its width and thickness
Exposure Length: FFC cables gave their exposure length, and you can check for it at the end of the cable.
Stiffener: An extra layer of material at the opposite side of the cable’s exposed length helps ZIF or LIF connections.

6.3 Why Flat Flexible Cable Solution Is the Best?

Several factors or reasons make FFCs the best in the field of cables. One of which includes the small and flexible nature of these cables. Their nature allows them to bend without damage and fit into tight spaces, and they are also thick enough to prevent breakage.

Also, FFCs are suitable for heat dissipation, and their tiny and flat nature allows for the quick conduction of heat from the system. As part of its flexibility, FFCs can stretch in any three-dimensional space.

Another essential feature is that they are light-weighted.

Ribbon Cable is seen in laptops.


Ribbon Cable is seen in laptops.

Furthermore, the FFCs provide a one-piece solution to all challenges regarding wires. By this we mean, It comes with both male and female connectors. Hence, saving labor costs and assembling time.
Conclusively, FFCs lock into place. Hence, they are suitable for devices with shocks and vibration because they remain firm in place.

6.4 5 Important Things to Know About Flat Ribbon Cable Assembly

We have successfully talked about Flat flexible cables and why they are the best cable solution. In this section, we would like to discuss five important things you should know about the flat ribbon cable assembly.

1. Why Do You Need Flat Ribbon Cable Assemblies?

There is much discrete cable that you could use for a project and still get the desired out. However, one basic need for flat ribbon cable assembly is space. The use of flat ribbon cable assembly in the internal wiring of electronics devices conserves space. This cable assembly can transmit both power and data from point to point in the computer. It is necessary to stress that flat ribbon cable assembly is not limited to computing devices only.

2. Benefits of Flat Ribbon Cable Assembly

The following are the benefits of flat ribbon cable assembly:
Small, Flat, and Flexible: This makes them the best fit for areas with limited space or compartments. They can bend or fold to fit into tight spots. Also, custom projects with power inlets will need a significant level of flexible cables. As such, the flat ribbon cable assembly is the best fit.

Ribbon Cables with Pin Connectors


Ribbon Cables with Pin Connectors

Easily Adjustable: With a flat ribbon cable assembly, you can easily adjust the cables to suit the device’s connections. Also, it comes with its hand press for insulation piercings during adjustment.

Color Coding: With ribbon cables, flat ribbon cable assembly also comes color-coding to prevent reverse connection. In the absence of this, a reverse connection can damage the device.

3. Types of Flat Ribbon Cable Assembly

To understand more about flat ribbon cable assembly, we decided to classify these cables into two types: Colour coded and Folded flat ribbon cable assemblies.

Color-coded Flat Ribbon Cable Assemblies

You must have observed that some ribbon cables are colorful. The aim is not to beautify the line, but it serves to identify the conductors quickly. In turn, this coding will prevent reverse connection. As it is similar to color coding for resistors, these cables have a repeated pattern of colors.

Folded flat ribbon cable assemblies are the best when it comes to limited areas. Depending on the nature of a project, folded cable assemblies afford the needed flexibility for installation. You can fold them in the desired directions; however, you would require some arrangement tools for permanent folding.

Flat Rainbow Ribbon Cable


Flat Rainbow Ribbon Cable

4. Applications of Flat Ribbon Cable Assembly

The applications of the flat ribbon cable assembly span numerous electronic devices other than computers, including printers, floppy drives, CD drives, hard drives, and more. The flat ribbon cable assembly is primarily useful in connecting two components in a compartment or device.

5. Future of Flat Ribbon Cable Assembly Manufacturing

Innovation never stops. Devices are becoming more compact, portable, and small to reduce weight and stress. Therefore, the industry will flourish in the next few years.

7. What is the Difference Between FPC & FFC

Are there indeed differences between FPC and FFC aside from their names? Yes! There are differences.
Flat flexible cables (FFC), as we have discussed, are ribbon cables used mostly in high-density devices like computers. Their flat and flexible nature allows them to connect two components freely in a limited space.

However, FPC stands for Flexible Printed Circuit. Like FFC, it is flexible, having a conductive circuit sandwiched in between elastic polymers. Technically, FPC is more than just a cable; and it is more of a flexible printed circuit board. However, it is thinner, lighter, and less rigid compared to the traditional PCBs.

Flexible Printed Circuit


Flexible Printed Circuit

8. Shielded Ribbon Cable: All You Need to Know

In this chapter, we will discuss what shielded cables are, their applications, and their makeup.
What is a Shielded Ribbon Cable?

A shielded ribbon cable is a bundle of wires in a finite space and protected by a shield. This shield protects against external dangers like flame, punctures, and environmental hazards.

The shielded ribbon cables are suitable for power and data transfers, and it is so because multiple discrete cords can tangle and get damaged when the device is moving. Hence, the best option for such a scenario.

What Electronic Products will use Shielded Ribbon Cables?

As we stated earlier, shielded ribbon cables are the best fit for tight spaces. More so, they have numerous applications in computers and computer peripherals. Floppy drivers, hard drives, and CD drives use shield ribbon cables. Also, printers and some computer devices are not left out here.

However, there are limitations to shielded ribbon cables. Because they have fire and stab resistance, the cooling rate is also meager.

There have been adjustments to shielded ribbon cables in recent times, and these advancements now make them safer to use and much more feasible.

What Makes Up the Shield in a Shielded Ribbon Cable?

Shielded ribbon cables consist of an outer shield made out of copper braids. Also, some ribbon cables are double-shield. Aside from the external protection, they have an inner foil that bridges contact between the wires and the outer shield.

9. PCIe Ribbon Cable: What You Need to Know

We are dedicating this chapter to the critical things you need to know about PCIe cables.

What is the PCIe Cable

The PCIe cable is valuable in connecting different electronic devices.

Uses of the PCIe Cable

The PCIe cables are mainly helpful in transferring data between devices, and the different data signals require their respective PCIe cables.

Compatibility of the PCIe Cable

PCIe cables are compatible with many electronic devices such as laptops, mobile devices, and more. As part of manufacturing, mini PCIe cards help to connect wireless adapters. Hence, improving the performance of the devices.

Different PCIe Cable Slot on a Motherboard

Although the PCIe cable looks more like PCI, they are not the same. The different PCIe cable slot on the motherboard comes from the number of lanes they possess, and they come with numbers like 1, 4, 8, 12, 16, and 32. This number of routes is proportional to the price and performance of the cable.

Various Types of PCIe Cable Card

Video cards: This is the most common type of PCIe cable. It comes with increased better connections with the motherboard, RAM, and CPU. Also, it favors high graphic tools for video gamers.


Graphics card

Sound cards: With good high ends, sound cards prove that PCIe cable is becoming more reliable and effective.

Hard disk controller: Consider using them with Solid-state drives to optimize the PCIe cable’s optimal performance. These are advancements to the hard disk drive already existing. With these cables, data writing and rewriting into any device is faster and more effective.

Differences Between PCI and PCIe Cable

We are sharply going to point out the significant differences between PCI and PCIe cable.

To start with, PCIe is an advancement of PCI.

Also, PCI devices allow for a connection between components inside a computer, and these connections make use of a parallel interface. In contrast, the PCIe devices perform the same function but with a serial connection interface.


A PCIe cable

Furthermore, PCIe devices have a faster data transmission rate than PCI. Additionally, PCIe devices help detect errors and achieve the proper reporting formats.

Conclusively, PCIe devices are much easier to install and use to encounter.

Processes to Building the Custom-made PCIe Cable

In this section, we will be listing the step-by-step approach to building a custom-made PCIe cable.

Measure the wire: Use a meter rule to measure the length you have predetermined for your cable. Also, ensure the line is straight, and the meter rule is put side by side with the cable. Once you’ve gotten your desired length, use a cutting tool like a razor to mark the line.

Cut the wire: Now, the indented mark tells you where to cut. Simply, using a cutting tool (wire cutter) to cut the cable to the measured length.

Strip the wire: By practice, you are to take off three meters of the wire insulation on both ends. With the meter rule, mark 3 meters on both ends for stripping. Use a wire stripper to expose the terminals.

Crimp the ATS plug to the wire: The next step after stripping is crimping the ATS plugs. ATS plugs come with two sets of wings (long and short wings). You must put a pair of ATS plugs into the crimping tool with all branches facing inwards, then crimp. While crimping, please, ensure you hear three distinct click sounds.


Crimping tool

Afterward, remove the pin from the crimping tool. Then insert one end of the wire into it until it reaches the end of the smaller wing. Now crimp both of them together again. Ensure you repeat the process for both the long and short wings. When you crimp correctly, you expect to get a male and female pair. Note, the ATS wings should be facing in the same direction. Failure to do it may result in the cable not being useful for plastic connectors.

Arrange the ATS pair of wings:

You need to place the ATS connector on a plain surface and run your finger on it. It is to determine the direction the ATS wings are facing.

Sleeving:

Measure and cut your sleeve. To do this, hold one end up to rest directly between the long and short set of wings. Then, slide your fingers along the wire, and cut the other end of the sleeve with a scissor.

Slightly burn the sleeve’s end:

After cutting, use a lighter to slightly burning off the cut part to seal the end.

Threading the wire:

Thread the wire through the sleeve to reach the other end. Then, slide the hitch rack over the sleeve by about 2mm. Hold firmly and apply heat with a lighter to the other end. While it is hot, cut it off with a wire cutter and pull it out. It will ensure a firm connection between the two.

Place it in the plastic connector:

You can now connect it to a plastic connector. Please, always ensure that the gender of the pin is correct at all times. Also, while touching, we expect to hear two clicks sound simultaneous. However, note that a mismatched connection can damage your system.

What is PCIe Ribbon Cable?

A PCIe ribbon cable is a cable type with many flat wires put parallel and side-by-side. Hence, they look more like a ribbon cable.


A PCIe ribbon cable

Uses of PCIe Ribbon Cable

PCIe ribbon cables help transfer data at a fast rate. We can see more of its use in computer systems and mobile devices.

The Need for Color Coding for PCIe Ribbon Cable

Color coding is essential in PCIe ribbon cables. So, users can avoid any unpleasant cases. Color coding helps in pin identification and prevents reverse connection. In line with this, one edge of the ribbon cable has a red color to tell pin 1.

Various Sizes of The PCIe Ribbon Cable

Determining the size of a PCIe ribbon cable is similar to that of ribbon cables, and we can classify them into two, namely Pitch and Number of conductors.

The pitch is simply the spacing between two conductors in the ribbon cable. Some of the commonly used spacing is 0.05inches and 0.1 inches. The wires of these pitches are helpful more for internal connection in computer systems and compact devices.

Conclusion

Ribbon cables are fantastic. They are among the numerous innovations that are changing the phase of things in space. The sleek design and lightweight associated with ribbon cables made it find helpful in many industries. Custom ribbon cable assembly designed for a particular project is less stressful, cost-effective, and very efficient. Reach out to us at CLOOM Tech, and we will give excellent designs and products suitable for your project.

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