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The Difference Between a Wire Harness & Cable Assembly

Posted by Rick Regole on April 26, 2021 | Updated on April 26, 2021

cable-assembly-wire-harnessWire harness, cable assembly, cable harness, wiring assembly...these words get used interchangeably, but are they the same thing? The technical answer is no. Wires and cables perform a similar function in different ways. Likewise, so do assemblies and harnesses. For this reason, terms like wire harness, cable harness, and cable assembly must not be used to describe the same solution. Here’s what product teams and engineers should know about the key differences.

Wire vs. Cable

To sort through the wire/cable harness/assembly debacle, it’s important to first understand the difference between a wire and a cable. A wire is a single strand of material (usually copper or aluminum) that conducts electricity. A cable is two or more wires that are bonded or braided together to conduct electricity. The difference between the two is capability. A single wire only has one conductor, which reduces its ability to regulate friction and voltage. Cables, on the other hand, have multiple conductors, enabling them to provide higher stability and power quality.

Wire Harness vs. Cable Assembly

By definition, harnesses and assemblies appear to do the same thing (similar to wires and cables). However, once again, the difference is capability.

Wire Harnesses

Wire harnesses are a collection of individually-sheathed wires that are bundled together to form a unit. This unit of wires provides electrical connectivity while keeping electrical components organized. Wire harnesses are ideal for applications with limited space; however, they can also be found in large-scale applications. The primary advantage of using wire harnesses is the ease of installation. Rather than route multiple single wires in a system, harnesses bundle wires together, enabling them to be routed all at once to expedite the process and reduce the risk of human error.

Cable Assemblies

A cable assembly is a collection of cables or wires that are braided and wrapped together in a single protective sheath to form one unified assembly. Like a wire harness, cable assemblies provide electrical connectivity while keeping wires and cables organized, but they serve a much more specific purpose—to protect wires and cables from mechanical and environmental elements.

The exterior of a cable assembly looks basic and consists of a heavy-duty thermoplastic material. This outer layer protects internal components from application-specific demands, including extreme temperature, friction, vibration, weather, chemical exposure, UV exposure, strain, and other environmental and mechanical factors.

To ensure that a cable assembly can withstand the application environment, most manufacturers offer a spectrum of off-the-shelf solutions as well as a high degree of design flexibility and customization. While this may add to the initial cost of the solution, ROI is quickly realized through performance, reliability and life span.  

Wire vs. Cable Harnesses Wrap-Up

To recap, wire harnesses are characterized by:

  • Individually insulated wires
  • Used to keep electrical systems organized
  • Ideal for spatial constraints
  • Simplify installation

 Cable Assembly Recap:

  • Wires and cables combined into one assembly
  • Highly customized
  • Designed to provide specialized protection
  • Ideal for applications requiring the utmost performance and reliability

These electrical elements might perform similar functions, but their purpose in a system is not. For more information on how to select the right interconnect solution for your application and avoid costly mistakes, download our Buyer's Guide.

Buyer's Guide iCONN Systems

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