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Assembly in Action: New Wire Architecture Cuts Time-to-Market

January 1, 2003
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When Gilbarco Inc. (Greensboro, NC) set out to retool its lead product 5 years ago, its primary motivations were customer convenience and manufacturing efficiency. But it turned out that the new design created a platform for faster product development.

The Advantage Series gas pump from Gilbarco became one of the leading products in its market. However, it had been built with a traditional point-to-point wiring harness—a legacy from the days when gas pumps were no more electrically complex than toasters. Like other manufacturers, the company had added more options to its pumps over the years. The result was a snarl of wiring packed inside the pump, making assembly expensive and servicing difficult.

So Gilbarco abandoned the point-to-point harness in favor of a modular design. The new design is built around a central backbone of ribbon cables, with insulation displacement connectors (IDCs) arranged along the cable to deliver power and signal to the various components.

The design uses Tyco Electronics’ (Harrisburg, PA) mass termination assembly (MTA) family of connectors and headers, using both 0.1- and 0.156-centerline components. The MTA system allows termination of multiple wires to a connector in one process.

The most immediate benefit of this simpler architecture is easier and faster assembly of the gas pumps. Instead of tedious point-to-point connections, workers snap together connectors between the components and the ribbon cable. In addition, this system eliminates the risk of misassembly, because the connectors on the components are keyed to their counterparts on the ribbon cable.

The new design also improves serviceability. Technicians can more easily replace components in the field to fix problems or upgrade the unit. And the simplified harness makes it easier for technicians to troubleshoot problems.

Another benefit of the new architecture became apparent when Gilbarco began designing its next generation of products. Because the architecture was so flexible, designers didn’t have to start from scratch. They could develop new prototypes by relocating, changing or adding components. This could be achieved by changing the location of existing connectors or adding new ones along the cable.

This design flexibility offered a significant competitive advantage in their market, which is evolving quickly. More consumers are pumping their own gas, so they want a pump that is simple, reliable and intuitive. And they also want more functions. For example, consumers expect to pay at the pump with cash or a credit card, or use new, wireless units to charge their account automatically without using a credit card.

Rather than rely on assumptions and anecdotes, Gilbarco staff asked people what they needed and wanted when they pulled in for a tank of gas. They learned that:

  • Consumers had a high concern for personal safety at service stations and convenience stores. They wanted an unobstructed view of the area. Traditional gas pumps were bulky and hard to see around.
  • Consumers wanted a simpler, more intuitive interface.
  • Consumers wanted hoses that could reach the fuel door on either side of the car. They also wanted a hose that could reach around big vehicles, to eliminate time waiting for other cars to pull out of the way.
  • They wanted to save time by using credit cards and wireless payment systems at the pump.
Gilbarco’s first generation redesign addressed many of these issues. The Encore line took advantage of the simpler architecture to offer a less bulky design that didn’t obstruct the customer’s view. The increased data-carrying capacity of the harness allowed designers to create an easy-to-use intuitive customer interface.

Another pump design—the Eclipse—went even further. The designers stood the design on its head, moving most of the pump components from the base to an overhead tower that angled out over the vehicle. The fuel hose was attached to this overhanging tower, where it could more easily reach either side of the car without dragging on the ground. The user interface was placed at eye level.

In another twist, the designers added a large graphics screen as part of the user interface on both Encore and Eclipse, creating new possibilities for consumers and retailers. The display can carry advertising messages to bring consumers into the store. It can even be configured to offer Web-based interactive content, allowing customers to select and print discount coupons or specials.

Designers and engineers at Gilbarco credit the ribbon cable and IDC-connector system with helping them bring these new designs to market much more quickly than would have been possible with a traditional design. Tyco supported the company’s aggressive time-to-market goals by supplying the MTA and IDC components on a just-in-time schedule for manufacturing.

For more information on wire harnesses, call 800-522-6752 or visit http://www.tycoelectronics.com.

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