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To Wire Harness Or To Cable Assembly, That Is The Question

What’s the difference between a wire harness and a cable assembly? The products have the same basic function of bundling wires and cables together and even professionals tend to use the terms interchangeably. Often, however, the terms are specifically applied to different products. So just what is the difference?

Given the terminology, you might think at first glance that a wire harness is full of wires and a cable assembly is full of cables. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. A wire harness can have cables as well as wires inside of it, and a cable assembly can have wires as well as cables inside of it.

Wires Versus Cables?

So what’s the difference between a wire and a cable anyway?

A wire is a thin length of metal, usually copper or aluminum, that conducts electricity. The electricity conducted through the wire supplies either power or transmits signals. The metal wire is usually contained within an insulating material.

A cable consists of two or more wires. Often they’re intertwined or braided together. Like an individual wire, cables are wrapped in an insulating material. As you might expect, cables tend to be thicker than wires, though it can happen that a single thick wire will be thicker than a cable full of much thinner wires.


What A Wire Harness And A Cable Assembly Have In Common?

In some ways a wire harness and a cable assembly are very similar, which is why professionals often mix the terms. Both a wire harness and a cable assembly contain wires and cables. Both have an external sheath wrapped around the wires and cables. Both can be bound together by straps, ties, and even electrical tape.

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The basic function of a wire harness and a cable assembly is the same as well. By binding many wires and cables together, they optimize space and reduce installation time within machinery and vehicles. Their sheathing protects the wires and cables from shorts, fires, and environmental factors like vibration and moisture.

So What’s The Difference?

Basically, it’s about the durability. A cable assembly is regarded as a heavy duty version of a wire harness, with thicker and more rugged sheathing. Both a cable assembly and a wire harness will have sheathing made from thermoplastic or thermoset material, but a cable assembly’s sheathing will be designed for specific environmental factors, such as size, heat, humidity, abrasion, and other hazards. The cable and wire industry stays up to date on regulations put forth by OSHA.  A wire harness in contrast is a low-cost solution designed for less challenging environments.

Again, which term is applied to a specific product can vary between industries, companies, and individuals you talk to. But in general, within that industry or company or that individual’s view, a cable assembly will be specifically designed to be more durable than a wire harness.

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