The confusion is understandable since many professionals use the terms interchangeably and the products themselves have very similar basic functions. Yet these products are very different from each other, as is their purpose, which means definitions need to be made in order to help people get the products they need. This is a brief explanation of cable assembly vs. wire harness, and how each product is used out in the world.
Before getting into the fighting differences of a cable assembly vs. wire harness, it’s important to note the difference between wire and cable, since these terms are also used interchangeably despite being very different products. Essentially, a wire is a strand of material that conducts electricity, such as aluminum or copper. A cable, by contrast, is two or more wires that run together. They’re often bonded or braided together, which is why you see cables that look like bunches of intertwined wires.
The Wire Harness
At their most basic, wire harnesses are a simple exterior sheath that covers some wires or cables. It’s usually made of thermoplastic or thermoset material which helps protect the wires from their environment. For the most part, wire harnesses bundle up cables and wires that are already protected by their own exterior sheaths. That means you could open up a wire harness and see multiple cables with their own coverings, but they’re all in a single wire harness.
Wire harnesses are a low-cost electrical solution that’s best for keeping electrical systems organized. By bundling wires and cables together, engineers and electrical contractors can keep their wiring systems organized. Since wire harnesses are often a low cost organizational tool, they aren’t generally able to protect the wires inside from constant friction, temperature swings, or other factors that could cause damage to the wires inside the harness.
The Cable Assembly
Cable assemblies are a group of wires or cables covered by a much more intensive exterior product. In general, they are made from heavy-duty materials, including shrink-wrapped thermoplastic, thermoplastic rubber, or vinyl. These assemblies serve a similar function to wire harnesses, including keeping wires and cables organized, but are designed for entirely different environments.
Cable assemblies are designed for specific environmental factors, including the size of the area where it’s being used and the types of environmental factors it’s likely to encounter. For this reason, cable assemblies can come in many different shapes and sizes, and are built to shield the interior wires and cables from heat, friction, moisture, abrasion, compression, and other hazards.
So what’s the difference between wire harnesses and cable assemblies? Well, each is used in different environments. Wire harnesses offer a low-cost solution for keeping wires organized, while cable assemblies keep all of the products safe in the most extreme circumstances.