Ribbon Cable Assembly Manufacturing: Manually VS Automatically

March 9, 2024 / Sam Tang

Ribbon cable assemblies are widely used in various electronic applications due to their flexibility and space-saving design. The manufacturing processes of ribbon cable assemblies can be performed manually or automatically.

In this blog post, we will explore the manufacturing processes of ribbon cable assemblies in more detail.

Manual production involves skilled workers who assemble and inspect the cables by hand, while automatic production uses machines to cut, crimp, and inspect the cables with greater efficiency.

The Key Tasks Involved in an Automated Ribbon Cable Assembly Process

In an automated ribbon cable assembly process, workers typically need to perform the following tasks:

  1. Set up the machine: Workers will need to ensure that the ribbon cable assembly machine is properly set up and calibrated before starting the assembly process. This may involve adjusting the tension on the ribbon cable, setting the correct feed rate for the cable and connectors, and making sure that all the necessary tools and components are available.
  2. Feed the ribbon cable: Once the machine is set up, workers will need to feed the ribbon cable into the machine. This may involve loading a spool of ribbon cable onto the machine or manually feeding the cable through a series of rollers and guides.
  3. Feed the connectors: In addition to the ribbon cable, workers will also need to feed the connectors into the machine. This may involve loading pre-terminated connectors onto a feeder system or manually inserting the connectors into a loading tray. This 
  4. Monitor the assembly process: During the assembly process, workers will need to monitor the machine to ensure that the cable and connectors are being properly assembled. This may involve checking the tension on the cable, monitoring the feed rate of the cable and connectors, and verifying that the connectors are being properly crimped onto the cable.
  5. Inspect the finished assembly: Once the ribbon cable assembly is complete, workers will need to inspect the finished product to ensure that it meets the required quality standards. This may involve visually inspecting the cable and connectors for any defects, testing the electrical conductivity of the assembly, and verifying that the connectors are securely attached to the cable.

Step #2 and step #3 are required at certain interval based on the capacity of feeding system, and the production efficiency.

Steps Of Manual Ribbon Cable Assembly

Cutting The Ribbon Cable

The ribbon cable is cut to the required length and then the insulation is stripped from the ends of the conductors to expose the bare copper wire. Here are some tips on cutting ribbon cable for ribbon cable assembly:

  1. Use sharp tools: Make sure you use sharp scissors or a sharp blade to cut the ribbon cable. Dull tools can damage the cable and result in uneven cuts.
  2. Measure twice, cut once: Before cutting the cable, make sure you have measured the length you need twice to ensure accuracy. Double-checking your measurements can save you time and reduce waste.
  3. Use a straight edge: Using a straight edge, such as a ruler or a straight piece of metal, can help you make straight, even cuts.
  4. Cut at a 90-degree angle: When cutting the cable, try to cut it at a 90-degree angle to avoid frayed or uneven edges.
ribbon cable cut direction

Stripping The Cable (Optional)

This step is only needed for crimp style connector.

Once the cable is cut to the desired length, the next step is to strip the insulation from the ends of the wires. This is typically done using a wire stripper. The amount of insulation to be stripped will depend on the type of connector being used.

Terminating The Cable: IDC & Crimp

IDC Type

For IDC type connectors, the stripped cable is inserted into the connector and then pressed down using an IDC insertion tool. This tool applies pressure to the connector, which cuts through the insulation and makes contact with the wire.
IDC_Termination

Here are some tips for terminating ribbon cable using IDC connectors:

  1. Use the Correct Tool: IDC connectors require a specialized tool to properly terminate the ribbon cable. Make sure you have the correct tool and that it is in good working order before starting the termination process.
  2. Align the Cable Correctly: It is important to align the cable correctly in the IDC connector before inserting it. Make sure that the conductors are properly aligned with the connector’s contacts and that the cable is inserted straight.
  3. Apply the Correct Pressure: When terminating the ribbon cable with an IDC connector, make sure to apply the correct amount of pressure using the tool. Too little pressure can result in a weak or unreliable connection, while too much pressure can damage the connector or the cable.
  4. Inspect the Connection: After terminating the ribbon cable, inspect the connection visually to ensure that all conductors are properly seated and that the insulation has been fully displaced. You can also use a continuity tester or a multimeter to verify that each conductor is making contact with the corresponding contact in the connector.

Crimp Type

For crimp type connectors, a crimping tool is used to crimp the connector onto the stripped cable. The crimping tool applies pressure to the connector, which deforms it around the wire.
crimp-termination

Here are some tips on terminating ribbon cables using crimp style connectors:

  1. Use the Right Crimping Tool: To achieve a reliable and secure connection, it is important to use the correct crimping tool that is compatible with the ribbon cable you are working with. Be sure to select tools that are designed to work with the specific gauge and number of conductors in your ribbon cable.
  2. Strip the Cable Properly: Before crimping the connector, make sure that the ribbon cable has been stripped correctly. Use a wire stripper tool to remove the appropriate amount of insulation from the end of the cable, exposing enough of the conductor for the connector to make a good connection.
  3. Use Proper Crimping Technique: When crimping the connector, be sure to use the proper technique to achieve a reliable and secure connection. Insert the stripped end of the cable into the connector, and then use the crimping tool to crimp the connector onto the cable. Be sure to apply even pressure to the connector and cable to avoid any distortion or damage to the connector.
  4. Inspect the Connection: After crimping the connector, it is important to inspect the connection to ensure that it is secure and free from any defects or issues. Check the crimped section of the connector to make sure it is uniformly crimped, and inspect the insulation displacement or contact points to ensure that they are making proper contact with the conductors in the ribbon cable.
  5. Insert Crimped Wires into the Connector Housing: This can be done manually or automatically. Make sure to apply the right orientation for insertion.
  6. Test the Assembly: After terminating the ribbon cable with the crimp style connector, it is important to test the assembly to ensure that it is working properly. Use specialized testing equipment to verify that all conductors are properly connected, and that there are no shorts or other issues that could affect the performance of the cable assembly.
crimp connector
Before mass production, you should always make samples for inspection and testing.

Visual Inspection

During a visual inspection of a ribbon cable assembly, there are several things that should be checked to ensure that the assembly is free from defects and ready for use. Here are some of the key items to look for:

  1. Cable alignment: Check that the individual conductors are aligned properly and that there are no crossed or twisted wires.
  2. Connector alignment: Check that the connectors are properly aligned with the cable and that they are straight and not crooked or misaligned.
  3. Cable strain relief: Check that the cable is securely held in place within the connector and that any strain relief mechanisms, such as cable ties or clamps, are properly attached and tightened.
  4. Insulation damage: Check for any damage to the insulation on the cable or the connector, such as cuts, nicks, or scratches.
  5. Termination quality: If the assembly has been terminated using crimp or insulator displacement connections, check that the quality of the termination is good, with no cracks or other signs of damage.
  6. Overall appearance: Finally, check the overall appearance of the assembly, looking for any signs of irregularities, such as bulges or deformations, that could indicate a problem.

By conducting a thorough visual inspection, you can catch any issues with the assembly before it is put into use, helping to prevent problems and ensure reliable performance.

Testing

Testing of ribbon cable assemblies typically involves several steps, which may vary depending on the specific application and requirements. Here are some common testing procedures that may be used:

  1. Continuity testing: This involves verifying that each conductor in the cable is continuous from one end to the other. This can be done using a multimeter or continuity tester, which will indicate if there is a break or short circuit in any of the conductors.
  2. Resistance testing: This involves measuring the resistance of each conductor to ensure that it falls within the specified range. This can be done using a multimeter or resistance tester.
  3. Insulation testing: This involves checking for any leakage between conductors or between conductors and the cable jacket. This can be done using a high-voltage insulation tester or megohmmeter.
  4. Signal integrity testing: For applications that require high-speed data transfer or other specific electrical characteristics, additional testing may be necessary to verify signal integrity, noise levels, and other performance parameters.

There are machines that can perform various tests, such as continuity, resistance, insulation resistance, and signal integrity testing, by using specialized test fixtures and probes to make electrical connections with the cable assembly.

ribbon-cable-testing-machine
The machines are programmable and can be configured to run specific tests based on the cable assembly’s requirements, including batch testing for testing large volumes efficiently.

Manually VS Automatically: Pros & Cons

Manual Assembly

Pros:

  • Lower initial costs: Manual assembly requires fewer initial investments in equipment, making it a more affordable option for small-scale production runs.
  • More flexibility: Manual assembly allows for more flexibility and adaptability in the assembly process, making it easier to adjust to changes in production needs.
  • Suitable for low volume production: Manual assembly is more practical for smaller quantities, as it allows for more hands-on control and precision.

Cons:

  • Slower production rates: Manual assembly can be time-consuming, which may not be practical for larger quantities or high-volume production runs.
  • Higher risk of errors: Manual assembly requires more human involvement, which can increase the risk of errors or inconsistencies in the final product.
  • Inconsistent quality: Since manual assembly involves more human intervention, the quality of the final product can vary based on individual skill levels and workmanship.

Automated Assembly

Pros:

  • Increased efficiency: Automated assembly can significantly increase production rates, reducing the time and labor costs associated with manual assembly.
  • Higher precision: Automated machines can perform repetitive tasks with high precision, reducing the risk of errors and improving the overall quality of the final product.
  • Consistent quality: Automated assembly ensures consistent quality and uniformity of the final product, regardless of the quantity produced.

Cons:

  • Higher initial costs: Automated assembly requires significant upfront investments in equipment and setup costs, making it less practical for smaller production runs.
  • Limited flexibility: Automated assembly can be less flexible and adaptable to changes in production needs since it involves specialized machines and equipment.
  • Maintenance costs: Automated machines require regular maintenance and upkeep to ensure they operate optimally, adding additional costs to the production process.

Overall, the choice between manual and automated ribbon cable assembly methods will depend on the production needs and budget constraints of each project. While manual assembly may be a more affordable and flexible option for smaller-scale production runs, automated assembly can provide significant efficiencies and higher quality for larger quantities.

If you need ribbon cable manufacturing service, or you would like connectors and ribbon cables to start your own production, please contact us! We will offer what you need for your projects.

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LDZY ELECTRONICS
LDZY electronics is a China manufacturer of connectors and custom cable assemblies (flat ribbon cable assemblies, discrete-wire cable assemblies, overmolded cable assemblies)
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Address: No. 3 Yanxing 2nd road, Yan’gang Community, Humen Town, Dongguan City, China
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