Traditionally, cables are shielded by a round jacket. Look at any cable, any cable at all, from your smartphone charger to the HDMI connecting your entertainment system or if you dare – the cables inside your walls (electrical, data, low voltage, etc.). They are all round. Unless – you are brave enough to go another route, or actually another shape.
So what’s out there other than the round or tube shaped cable jackets? In 1956 (!!!), a flexible flat cable was invented by Cicoil Corporation, located in Chatsworth, California. A new material at the time, silicone rubber, was used to shape a flat cable containing multiple conductors of the same size. These new shaped cables were first used by IBM and Sperry/Univac, replacing the then used round cables and allowing for more flexibility while taking up less space.
While flexible flat cables were originally used in the mainframe computer world, in the 1990’s Cicoil Corporation developed a way to make flat flexible cables out of wires, hollow tubing, coaxial cable, and fiber optics. These developments have made it possible for flat cables to be also used in a new variety of applications including medical equipment, semiconductor manufacturing equipment, satellites and more.
Now days flat cables are available in many different applications, including audio, video, HDMI, data, and low-voltage lighting. They offer a solution to cable messes with their thin flat form and adhesive back. What does it mean? They can be easily installed to nearly any flat surface and painted over to blend into the surface they are mounted on, eliminating the need for cable raceways and conduits to cover trip hazard cable bundles. They are suitable for both residential and office environments.
Flexible flat cables have come a long way and have been developed for additional applications over the years. That being said, they are still not suitable for any and all applications. HDMI flat cables are fairly new. The only category cable that has a flat version is Cat5e. Cat6 and other category cables are not yet available. High voltage flat cables also do not yet exist.
Since the flexible flat cable technology is still finding its footing in many applications and industries, cost is high. But when taking into account all the accessories needed to hide or trip proof round cables, the cost may seem a bit more reasonable. With time hopefully flexible flat cables will become more affordable and the awareness of their existence will grow, making them an inseparable part of the wire and cable industry.