Quantcast Stranded Wires and Cables

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A wire is a single slender rod or filament of drawn metal. This definition restricts the term to what would ordinarily be understood as "solid wire." The word "slender" is used because the length of a wire is usually large when compared to its diameter. If a wire is covered with insulation, it is an insulated wire. Although the term "wire" properly refers to the metal, it also includes the insulation.

A conductor is a wire suitable for carrying an electric current.

A stranded conductor is a conductor composed of a group of wires or of any combination of groups of wires. The wires in a stranded conductor are usually twisted together and not insulated from each other.

A cable is either a stranded conductor (single-conductor cable) or a combination of conductors insulated from one another (multiple-conductor cable). The term "cable" is a general one and usually applies only to the larger sizes of conductors. A small cable is more often called a stranded wire or cord (such as that used for an iron or a lamp cord). Cables may be bare or insulated. Insulated cables may be sheathed (covered) with lead, or protective armor. Figure 1-5 shows different types of wire and cable used in the Navy.

Figure 1-5. - Conductors.

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Conductors are stranded mainly to increase their flexibility. The wire strands in cables are arranged in the following order:

  • The first layer of strands around the center conductor is made up of six conductors. The second layer is made up of 12 additional conductors.
  • The third layer is made up of 18 additional conductors, and so on. Thus, standard cables are composed of 7, 19, and 37 strands, in continuing fixed increments.
  • The overall flexibility can be increased by further stranding of the individual strands.

Figure 1-6 shows a typical cross section of a 37-strand cable. It also shows how the total circular-mil cross-sectional area of a stranded cable is determined.

Figure 1-6. - Stranded conductor.

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Several factors must be considered in selecting the size of wire to be used for transmitting and distributing electric power. These factors will be discussed throughout this section. Military specifications cover the installation of wiring in aircraft, ships, and electrical/electronic equipment. These specifications describe the technical requirements for material purchased from manufacturers by the Department of Defense. An important reason for having these specifications is to ensure uniformity of sizes to reduce the danger of fires caused by the improper selection of wire sizes. Wires can carry only a limited amount of current safely. If the current flowing through a wire exceeds the current-carrying capacity of the wire, excess heat is generated. This heat may be great enough to burn off the insulation around the wire and start a fire.


The current rating of a cable or wire indicates the current capacity that the wire or cable can safely carry continuously. If this limit, or current rating, is exceeded for a length of time, the heat generated may burn the insulation. The current rating of a wire is used to determine what size is needed for a given load, or current drain.

The factors that determine the current rating of a wire are the conductor size, the location of the wire in a circuit, the type of insulation, and the safe current rating. Another factor that will be discussed later in this chapter is the material the wire is made of. As you have already seen, these factors also affect the resistance in ohms of a wire-carrying current.


An increase in the diameter, or cross section, of a wire conductor decreases its resistance and increases its capacity to carry current. An increase in the specific resistance of a conductor increases its resistance and decreases its capacity to carry current.


The location of a wire in a circuit determines the temperature under which it operates. A wire may be located in a conduit or laced with other wires in a cable. Because it is confined, the wire operates at a higher temperature than if it were open to the free air. The higher the temperature under which a wire is operating, the greater will be its resistance. Its capacity to carry current is also lowered. Note that, in each case, the resistance of a wire determines its current-carrying capacity. The greater the resistance, the more power it dissipates in the form of heat energy.

Conductors may also be installed in locations where the ambient (surrounding) temperature is relatively high. When this is the case, the heat generated by external sources is an important part of the total conductor heating. This heating factor will be explained further when we discuss temperature coefficient. We must understand how external heating influences how much current a conductor can carry. Each case has its own specific limitations. The maximum allowable operating temperature of insulated conductors is specified in tables. It varies with the type of conductor insulation being used.


The insulation of a wire does not affect the resistance of the wire. Resistance does, however, determine how much heat is needed to burn the insulation. As current flows through an insulated conductor, the limit of current that the conductor can withstand depends on how hot the conductor can get before it burns the insulation. Different types of insulation will burn at different temperatures. Therefore, the type of insulation used is the third factor that determines the current rating of a conductor. For instance, rubber insulation will begin deteriorating at relatively low temperatures, whereas varnished cloth insulation retains its insulating properties at higher temperatures. Other types of insulation are fluorinated ethylene propylene (FEP), silicone rubber, or extruded polytetrafluoroethylene. They are effective at still higher temperatures.


The National Board of Fire Underwriters prepares tables showing the safe current ratings for sizes and types of conductors covered with various types of insulation. The allowable current-carrying capacities of single copper conductors in free air at a maximum room temperature of 30C (86F) are given in table 1-3. At ambient temperatures greater than 30C, these conductors would have less current-carrying capacity.

Table 1-3. - Temperature Ratings and Current-Carrying Capacities (in Amperes) of Some Single Copper Conductors at Ambient Temperatures of 30C

Size Moisture Resistant Rubber or Thermoplastic Varnished Cambric or Heat Resistant Thermoplastic Silicone Rubber or Fluorinated Ethylene Propylene (FEP) Polytetra- Fluoroethylene
0000 300 385 510 850
000 260 330 430 725
00 225 285 370 605
0 195 245 325 545
1 165 210 280 450
2 140 180 240 390
3 120 155 210 335
4 105 135 180 285
6 80 100 135 210
8 55 70 100 115
10 40 55 75 110
12 25 40 55 80
14 20 30 45 60

Q.11 List the four factors you should use to select wire for a specified current rating. answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.12 What are three types of nonmetallic insulating materials that can be used in a high-temperature environments? answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.13 State why it is important for you to consider the ambient (surrounding) temperature of a conductor when selecting wire size.answer.gif (214 bytes)

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