The National Electrical Wire Processing Technology Expo features some cutting-edge technology recently developed for aerospace, military and medical device applications.

I just returned from the National Electrical Wire Processing Technology Expo in Milwaukee. The 11th annual show attracted a healthy turnout yesterday. I sat in on several educational seminars and was surprised by the number of people who are interested in wire crimping-more than 125 people participated in the standing-room-only event.

During another session, a group of engineers from Chrysler, Ford and General Motors provided a frank assessment of the Big 3’s ongoing conversion from the traditional SAE J1128 standard to the ISO 6722 metric wire standard, which was formally announced a year ago.

“It’s taking longer than we anticipated,” said Don Price, Ford’s representative on the Electrical Wiring Component Application Partnership (EWCAP), a noncompetitive industry standards organization that’s overseeing the conversion process and developing common electrical interfaces for the Big 3 as part of the United States Council for Automotive Research (USCAR). “There’s lots of complexity and lots of variation in ISO vs. SAE wire.”

The exhibit hall in downtown Milwaukee was full of visitors from around the world, including quite a few big-name automotive and aerospace manufacturers looking for the newest tools of the trade. One of the coolest things that I saw was at the Minnesota Wire booth. The company displayed some cutting-edge technology that it recently developed for aerospace, military and medical device applications.

One of the products is called iStretch. It’s an elastomeric wire that can stretch up to 300 percent and then return to its original length, with no loss in signal integrity or conductivity. I found that claim hard to believe. But, sure enough, the sample I was given did just that.

The innovative wire was originally developed for the U.S. Army for use in soldiers’ vests, which contain a wide variety of electronic gear these days, including GPS, communication and body monitoring systems. Other potential applications include headset assemblies and ear phones, sports apparel and medical lead wire.

“Benefits of iStretch include durability, longevity and resilience," says Chip Laingen, R&D director at Minnesota Wire. "It maintains consistent signal integrity in systems prone to excessive movement. The wire can be applied wherever there is a requirement to remove stress from interconnects due to movement of the overall system. It could replace a traditional coil cord."

Minnesota Wire is also promoting a new patent-pending product called iStealth. The nonmetallic wire uses carbon nanotube technology (CNT) to provide weight savings of up to 65 percent.

"We're still developing iStealth, but it will have many aerospace and medical device applications," claims Laingen. "It's ideal for high-end signal applications, because the technology is invisible to radar.

Several issues still need to be addressed before iStealth is widely available beyond current military applications. “Supply chain issues are a challenge, because CNT yarn is hard to get,” explains Laingen. “We’re also still developing processing parameters. For instance, we’re trying to figure out how to crimp it. In addition, conductivity issues are still being addressed.”