Rock Solid Equipment - By Fred Noer in the Wiring
Harness News (May/June 01)
Nothing gives a nicer appearance
to a wiring harness than braiding. The uniform pattern of the
threads or wires cannot help but add higher quality and attractiveness
to a finished product, which may be enhanced with braids in various
colors or textures.
Whether done to meet a job specification
or sold as a value-added option, braiding has increased 500 percent
in the wiring harness industry since the mid-1960s, according
to Jack Dennehy, owner of Composite & Wire Machinery (CWM)
in North Kingstown, R.I. He knows wiring harness braiding well,
having sold braiding machines the past 34 years.
Because of the appearance and
protection features of braided harnesses, Dennehy urges wiring
harness assembly businesses not doing braiding to consider adding
braiding to their operations. Also, assemblers subcontracting
the work may want to evaluate the merits of bringing it in-house."People
have told me that it doesn't pay to have harnesses braided elsewhere,"
Dennehy said. "With the time delays and the freight charges,
it ends up costing them money. You can use a braider one week
and then have it out of action six weeks, but it's still a good
investment. Braiders can be paid off in a short time when they're
Providing a harness made can
have market penetration by offering braiding, in-plant braiding
can be evaluated in terms of control, convenience and cost. Tighter
controls on quality can be achieved by having the work done by
company employees. Adding braiding as part of a plant's production
schedule means greater convenience and eliminates the steps of
shipping and receiving harnesses from a braiding specialty firm
before final delivery. Braiding cost reductions may be realized
by avoiding the mark-up of outsourcing.
One of the primary considerations
in doing braiding is the equipment. Dennehy knows all about it,
since he worked 21 years at New England Butt Co. (NEBC), an East
Coast company that began manufacturing braiders in 1847 and dominated
the U.S. braider market for decades. When the firm was acquired
in 1987 by Wardwell Braiding Machine Co. in Central Falls, R.I.,
he worked there a short period before starting CWM 13 years ago.
His company specializes in selling rebuilt NEBC machines, and
45 percent of CWM's
business is in the wiring harness industry.
Regardless of manufacturer, a
braider is a rock-solid piece of equipment, both in design and
construction. "The last major redesign of the machine was
in 1950 when existing parts were retooled, milled and machined
to bring them up to standards of just using as-cast components," Dennehy
said. "But the movement of the carrier to produce a braid
has been the same over-and-under construction since the 1800s
when braiders were built for making shoelaces, for instance.
It's a slow process, but there's no other way to do it.
"Braiding machines don't
wear out," he said. "There are machines from the 1960s
and '70s still running, and the main heart of the machine is
not worn at all. With lubrication, machines can last 20 to 35
years. There is no loosening of standards. They will produce
a good braid until they are worn out. Once a machine starts jamming,
then it's time for a rebuild."
He acknowledged some braiders
use smaller gear teeth, but they wear more quickly. German and
Spanish machines contain plastic and
nylon parts, but their faster wear does not compare favorably
to all-metal machines built in the United States and other countries.
New machines are manufactured
in the United States by just one company – Wardwell. It
continues to make the maypole-style braider popularized by NEBC.
That style is used for braiding wiring harnesses. The other style
of braider is the rotary, which is for insulating wires such
sparkplug wire and cable TV conduit. Because of its purpose,
a rotary braider operates three times faster than a maypole.
Since braiders last so long,
a large market developed for selling rebuilt and reconditioned
machines, in which Dennehy's company specializes. With a rebuilt
machine consisting of mostly new parts, it can run as well as
a new one. One advantage of a rebuilt machine is that it can
be built and delivered more quickly than a new unit, 1-2 weeks
as opposed to 3-4 weeks.
One method of sizing a braiding
machine is according to the number of carriers, each of which
contains a bobbin of braiding material. According to Dennehy,
90 percent of harness braiding is done on four sizes of machines
with 16, 24, 32 and 48 carriers, respectively. Large harnesses,
for such military aircraft as F-16 jets and Osprey tilt-rotor
planes, are done on 64, 72 and even 144-carrier braiders.
Generally speaking, a 16-carrier
machine is used to cover one wire or a harness up to 3/8 inch
in diameter. For a harness between 3/8 and 5/8 inch, a 24-carrier
braider is required. From 5/8 to 1 inch, 32-carriers are necessary.
A 48-carrier machine is used on a harness between one inch and
"Most job shops have at
least one of each of the four different size machines," Dennehy
"Which machine to use depends on the branches of a harness.
A quarter-inch breakout branch could be done on a 16-carrier
braider, while a larger machine would be needed for the rest
of the harness."Braiding quality
is determined by coverage and flexibility. Usually, achieving
good coverage is not difficult, since a larger harness could
be put through a smaller machine and result in the proper coverage.
However, flexibility would suffer.
Perfect harness flexibility is
attained when the braiding material is laid on the harness at
a 45-degree angle. Braiding at that angle also has the best appearance.
Since perfection often is not reached, as long as the angle is
40-60 degrees the harness is adequately flexible. When the braid
angle is 70-90 degrees, unacceptable harness stiffness occurs.
Carrier number also affects overall
machine size. On a 16-carrier braider, the head is 18 inches,
while on a 24-carrier unit the head is 20-22 inches. A 30-inch
head is on a 32-carrier machine, and 48-carrier braider has a
A braider is positioned on legs
and a plate on the floor. The base-plate sizes are: 16-carrier,
24 inches square; 24-carrier, 30 inches square; 32-carrier, 32x38
inches; and 48-carrier, 42 inches square. A 16-carrier braider
can weigh up to 500 pounds, and a 24-carrier machine can top
out at 700 pounds. Weight of a 32-carrier braider is 800 pounds,
and 48-carrier machine exceeds 1,000 pounds.
Overall machine height averages
70 inches. That is with a harness receiving wheel or capstan
on top measuring 18 or 24 inches in diameter.
The carriers contain the braiding
material. Often it is made with PVC covered nylon or polyester
and specified by color, temperature sensitivity and abrasion
resistance. Brand-name materials include Kevlar, Fiberglas, Peek,
Nomex, Trevira and Vectran. "A braider does not care what
kind of material is being processed," Dennehy said. "Changing
the springs for the different types is all that's required."
Even Nextel, a ceramic fiber
with resistance to high temperatures, is used. Dennehy said braiding
with Nextel is difficult because it flakes. "Before the
machine design was changed from vertical to horizontal, the residue
fell into the machine's oil and gears, but now it falls on the
he said. Due to Nextel's abrasiveness, carrier guides have to
be switched to carbide from chrome, which works fine for other
To prevent static in radios and
other electrical components, wire is used in braiding. Copper
can be used either bare or plated with nickel, silver or tin.
Wire also can be aluminum, bronze, stainless steel, nickel 200,
Inconel and Monel.
Most of the heavy equipment cover
materials are .028 inch thick, and some may be .040 thick. Others
are measured in denier. For example, Nomex is 840 denier.
Fabric braiding of wire harnesses
first was done for military applications in the mid-1960s, Dennehy
related. "The braid not only provided abrasion resistance,
but nobody could tamper with a harness without somebody else's
he said. "In the 1970s harness braiding slid over to the
civilian side when Caterpillar and others started using braid
instead of tape on off the road vehicles. It just went from there
into, forklifts, aerial ladders and even garbage trucks. It grew
so that any type of construction machine had braiding. The PVC
material is used the most because it provides good performance
but is not overly expensive."
Power for operating the machine
is provided by a fixed-speed or variable-speed motor, which is
a fractional horsepower type. The 16-carrier braider is powered
by a 1/3 h.p. motor, and a 24-carrier machine has a 1/2 h.p.
motor. A 3/4 h.p. motor powers a 32-carrier machine, and a 1
h.p. motor is on a 48-carrier braider. A 110-volt motor is standard,
but a230-volt, three-phase motor is available.
A fixed-speed motor requires
an operator to shut it off completely when a harness breakout
is encountered during braiding. A variable-speed motor, found
on 75 percent of braiders, allows an operator to simply slow
the machine when it has to braid around a breakout. Although
machine speeds to establish per-foot or per inch braiding rates
are available, determining braiding production time depends on
To buy a new machine with 16
carriers, the cost is approximately $6,250. A rebuilt unit is
approximately 25 percent less at $5,000. The price of a new 24-carrier
machine is $8,125 ($6,500 rebuilt), 32-carrier braider $10,000
($8,000 rebuilt) and 48-carrier machine $13,125 ($10,500 rebuilt).
Up to $2,200 can be spent on options for a new or rebuilt braider.
Options include such items as a foot switch, different capstan,
fittings, double-wheel gantry system and grease kit. The latter
provides for greasing a machine every 40 hours of operation as
opposed to every day with oil.
Considerable money may be saved
by buying used braiders, but they are scarce, according to Dennehy.
"You're not going to find used machines unless companies
go out of business," he said, "but that hasn't happened
in the last four or five years.
"Most wiring harness shops
buy machines that come from a company they already know, so they
have a good idea the machine is OK," Dennehy said. "There
are very few used braiding machines around. I would say 90 percent
of my customers don't bother with buying used. They buy reconditioned
or rebuilt machines."
Nonetheless, should a company
consider buying a used braider, Dennehy urged careful inspection
of the machine. Such functions as motor and clutch performance
should be checked. If a problem is discovered, what repair will
be necessary – a minor fix or complete teardown?
Whether a company starts with
a new or rebuilt machine, it should last the same amount of time,
according to Dennehy. "If a machine is maintained and lubricated
properly, it should last a long time," he said. "Harness
shops usually have just one shift, so a braiding machine is not
going to be run three shifts over 24 hours a day, seven days
a week. The life of the machine should be 20 years."
Parts of the machine need to
be lubricated once a week or every 40 hours. The track should
be oiled lightly every day so the carriers operate smoothly.
The carriers do wear out after 3-5 years, but most shops have
two sets of carriers for each machine. The same carriers work
on different size machines.
When a machine is rebuilt, Dennehy
stated that new gears, belts, pulleys, gear reducers, switches,
bearings, carriers, clutches and other parts are installed in
addition to a new motor. The cost is approximately 50 percent
of a new machine. If the track plate has to be replaced, the
cost increases approximately 20 percent.
Although a braider may sound
complex due to its many parts, operation is simple. Minimum skill
and good manual dexterity are required by an operator to send
a harness through a machine. "Running a braider is strictly
a manual operation,"
Dennehy said. "There's no way to automate braiding."
Training a person to operate,
adjust and maintain a braider requires approximately six hours.
"People often have a lot of reservations initially, but
after training they are totally confident," he said. "A
person can be trained in a day, but it takes longer to pick up
speed and learn how to do a back braid and how to handle the
harness when the machine is stopped."
Dennehy noted that a braiding
machine is noisy. He recommended isolating braiders in a room
away from other plant operations. A braider operator must wear