As insulation for very small wire is made more environmentally friendly, automotive manufacturers need more precise stripping form geometries in their stripping blades so they never make contact with the wire conductor.

This photo shows 38 AWG micro-coaxial cable with a three-stage strip. This type of cable is used in medical, telecom and consumer electronics applications. Photo courtesy Schleuniger.

“A lot of what’s being pushed now in terms of assembly with very small wire is coming from the automotive side,” says Bil DeGrace, vice president of Mechtrix Corp., which makes cutting and stripping blades for large wire-processing suppliers. “The really small wire-34 and 36 AWG-that’s what many automotive manufacturers are hoping to eventually use.”

Mechtrix has sp spspecifically created several precise stripping form geometries for processing very small wires used in automobiles.

DeGrace says the automotive industry is putting more electronic content into vehicles every year to reduce both their cost and weight.

“This presents two challenges,” says DeGrace. “First, anytime you have something electronic you have to have power to operate it. So even if it’s controlled by a circuit board you still have to have power going to and from that component. Second, as more components inside the vehicle become electronic, you have more wires with added complexity and potential extra weight.”

He says wires are everywhere in a vehicle, including through door panels, through the doors themselves and routed underneath the dashboard. So anything manufacturers can do to reduce the size of that wire bundle makes it easier for them to assemble the vehicle and thin out the walls of the vehicle.

“When you’re dealing with such small wires, anything you do to damage that core can cause a failure down the road. There are thousands of wires in a vehicle. Imagine if one wire breaks somewhere inside the vehicle to try and troubleshoot that. From a quality standpoint, it’s just a nightmare for rework.”

Challenges related to small wire continually get harder, according to DeGrace. One is halogen-free wire, which is fairly new to the market and helps make recycling a vehicle easier and more complete. “Manufacturers want to remove any harmful chemicals or compounds, such as halogens or lead, from components in a vehicle to make it 100% recyclable.”

“They eliminated some chemicals and compounds from the insulation that made it easier to process the wire, and replaced them with exotic materials that are harder and thinner and much more difficult to process.”

As a result, manufacturers are dealing with small wires that have very very thin insulations. DeGrace says this heightens the need for precise stripping form geometries in the blades used by the automotive industry when stripping insulation. Doing so ensures that that blade never makes contact with the wire’s conductor.

DeGrace says halogen-free wire was initially pushed by the Europeans, but is now pretty much become an industry standard worldwide.

DeGrace also says that the automotive industry is looking at replacing copper wiring with aluminum wiring in certain applications, again from a weight and cost benefit standpoint. He says they tried this some years ago with limited success, and are promoting a couple new products that tout the advantages of aluminum wire.

“We’ve always had to deal with wire this small in the past-but it was always low-volume, and a lot of it was hand processed, whereas now they’re trying to automate the production process.” says DeGrace. “There’s a much more concerted effort to use smaller wire going forward.”