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PCB Cable Assembly: Function Types and Application

Table of Contents

Using individual wires can be cumbersome and confusing when connecting circuit boards and other electronic devices or systems. In such cases, a PCB cable assembly provides a better option. It groups the wires in one unit, making everything neat and straightforward. Below, we explore its function, construction, benefits, and applications.

What is PCB Cable Assembly?

A PCB cable assembly is a collection of cables designed for use with printed circuit boards. It comprises a group of 2 or more conductors bundled together and encased in a protective covering. The ends feature connectors or terminations, whose design can vary depending on the usage requirements.

The wires are either power or data and rated for the application. On the other hand, the outer sleeve is usually either rubber or plastic. It provides insulation and protective benefits, making the product safe and long-lasting.

However, make sure to distinguish the assembly from a wire harness. A wire harness keeps wires organized but does not protect them against environmental conditions. A cable assembly ensures better protection using a rugged outer jacket to encase the wires.

PCB cable connector and receptacle
PCB cable connector and receptacle
Resource: https://forum.kicad.info

PCB Cable Assembly Function

A PCB cable, which consists of several wires encased in a protective sleeve, plays an essential role in the application of printed circuit boards in various electrical systems and electronic devices. They include the following:

Power and Signal transmission

The primary function of the wires in the assembly is the transmission of power or communication signals. Each wire is rated for its purse and usually has a color that makes it easy to identify.

Protection

The outer sheath provides insulation and protects anyone touching it from shock, especially when using the assembly in higher voltage systems. It also shields the wires against environmental elements like heat, moisture, and abrasion or impact.

Inside a cable assembly
Inside a cable assembly
Resource: https://www.assemblymag.com

What is a PCB Cable assembly Made Of?

Circuit board cable assemblies comprise the following discrete components: conducting wires, insulating material, optional EMI shield, outer covering, and connectors or terminals.

Conducting Wires

Typically made from copper, the conducting wires transmit information or voltage from one point to another. They must have the correct rating for current carrying capacity. They are also available in different diameters based on the usage needs.

Outer Covering/Sheath

The sheath covers the wires. It can be different materials. Options for the covering include extruded or shrink-wrapped thermoplastic, vinyl, or even rubber. The material must resist damage from abrasion, moisture, heat, and other conditions.

Insulation

The insulation here refers to the material covering the individual wires in the assembly. Its function is to protect the wires from shorts or mechanical stress. It ensures the product serves its purpose reliably without experiencing dielectric breakdown and other problems.

EMI Shielding

The EMI shield is an optional part. It’s only necessary when the application requires one, such as if the PCB and cable operate in a radiation-prone environment or carry RF signals. It’s usually a sheath made of braided wires and a thin foil surrounding the wire or wires.

Connectors or Terminations


The ends of the assembly connect to the circuit board or other device using connectors or terminals. Different connector types or coupling mechanisms are available. They include insulation-displacement, wire-to-wire, wire-to-board, and screw connections.

EMI cable assemblies
EMI cable assemblies
Resource: https://www.assemblymag.com

PCB Cable Assembly Types

You can use one of the different types of cable assemblies for your circuit board project or application. They include the AV, flat ribbon, molded case, and EMI or RF types.

AV Cable

AV means audiovisual and refers to an assembly of wires that contain audio and video-carrying wires. Common examples of the assemblies for PCB connections include the older coaxial cable and the HDMI or VGA types.

Flat Ribbon Cable

This type features a thin, flat design that looks like a ribbon. The flat shape makes it fit smaller spaces. It’s also inexpensive to make and mainly uses insulation-displacement connectors.

Molded Case Cable

Also called an over-mold, this type is manufactured by placing it in a mold cavity and injecting the mold with molten plastic. The result is a sturdy assembly that can resist mechanical shock and other damage excellently.

EMI Shielded Cable


The EMI (Electromagnetic Interference) type has a foil or braided mesh covering underneath the outer jacket. The additional cover is an EMI shield to protect the wires against interference. The shield is usually either copper or aluminum.

PCB cable assembly design for board-to-board connection
PCB cable assembly design for board-to-board connection
Resource: https://forum.fritzing.org

What are the Advantages of PCB Cable Assemblies?

Bundling wires together in a protective covering offers various benefits. Understanding these benefits is crucial when designing a circuit board for a specific project, especially when the board must connect with other devices. Using the assemblies offers these advantages.

It Simplifies the PCB Assembly

Cables are less challenging to produce and use than designing connections and soldering components on a circuit board. Using them simplifies the PCB assembly process by reducing the work the fabricator has to perform on the board.

Reduced PCB Manufacturing Costs

With the simplified PCB design and assembly steps, you reduce the cost of manufacturing your circuit boards when using wire connections. The cost savings become significant if you’re mass-producing the PCBs for your project.

Increased PCB Adaptability

By allowing connection with external devices or systems, the assembly increases the circuit board’s versatility and usable in a broad range of applications. It also makes connections more straightforward, allowing modifications to meet future usage needs.

Enhanced Safety and Durability


The assembly has a plastic or rubber covering. The insulating properties of the sleeve make the conductors safe to work with. It also offers protection against environmental damage, increasing the lifespan of the assembly and the circuit board.

Cable assembly application in electronic devices
Cable assembly application in electronic devices
Resource: https://discuss.inventables.com

PCB Cable Assembly Uses and Applications

Cable assemblies save space and make connections easier. That makes them crucial when the board must link with other devices within a system. They make connections in the following systems and devices.

  • Computer and computer installations
  • Panel displays
  • Lighting systems
  • Automotive systems
  • Surveillance and navigation
  • Manufacturing equipment and machinery
  • Robotic systems
  • Telecommunication equipment
  • Aerospace electronics

Conclusion

The PCB cable assembly groups several wires together. It places them inside a plastic or rubber sleeve, protecting against environmental damage. In addition to simplifying the circuit board assembly process and lowering production costs, using these assemblies means a more versatile device, allowing you to use the PCB in various electronic systems.

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