Cords and cord sets have been referred to as the forgotten component
by some, but they certainly have something that other high-profile trends
may not, which is staying power. That is a result of the fact that appliances
could not function without cords - something that no one has been able
It makes sense that any advancements are driven by what appliance OEMs
are doing with their products, instead of supplier innovations driving
OEM advancements. And what an appliance OEM wants seems to vary depending
on the supplier with whom it is conducting business.
According to cords and cord sets manufacturer Unicable,
Inc. (Bowling Green, KY, U.S.), what the OEMs want in general has
to do less with large technical breakthroughs and more with small details. "OEMs
are adding value-added steps," says Larry Oden, senior engineer for
the company. These value-added processes include internal wiring assemblies,
labels/warning tags, molded and mechanical strain reliefs, and grommets. "We
see more cases of the OEM bringing the power supply cord further into
the appliance by integrating internal wiring assemblies," adds Mr.
Oden. "This reduces the total number of component part numbers in production
and improves the assembly process."
For the Bergquist
Company (Chanhassen, MN, U.S.), high-amperage detachable cord sets
and specialty cords are very popular. "We're seeing a lot more applications
for detachable cord sets that are [rated] at 16 to 20 A," says Nate Robinson,
project manager for the company's Cord Division. "Customers are looking
to have portable applications for equipment that draws higher amperage." According
to Mr. Robinson, a good example of a specialty cord is a temporary trade-show
cord that is heavy-duty, yet thin, and reportedly doesn't create a barrier
when placed under carpets. These types of cords exist because of customer
Inc. (Bowling Green, KY, U.S.), these transparent color cords
allow connection verification through a transparent outer jacket
while the colors provide a decorative touch for specialty applications.
The cords can be fitted with any of the company's plug types and
the jackets are made of high-quality PVC with a temperature rating
Other than customer requests, many of the changes in the
cords and cord sets industry come about due to the actions
of governing bodies. A current example of this is California's
(U.S.) Proposition 65, which is also known as The Safe Drinking
Water and Toxic Enforcement Act. Part of this proposition
reportedly imposes a limit of 300 ppm for lead in products.
According to Guy Francfort, vice president, Sales and Marketing
Electronics, Inc (New Brunswick, NJ, U.S.), the lead
content of cords is currently in the range of 1,000 to 1,500
ppm. "It will be extremely costly for manufacturers to have
separate manufacturing procedures to meet Prop. 65," says
Mr. Francfort. Instead of manufacturing one type of cord
for California and another type for the rest of the U.S.,
cord manufacturers will most likely change all production
to the new standard. "This will definitely cause a short-term
increase in the cost of manufacturing processes," says Mr.
Many aspects of cords are application specific. "Most of
the durability issues are driven by the customer's applications," says
Mr. Robinson of Bergquist Company says that many companies
are asking for oil- and water-resistant cordage. These cords
even have water-resistant plugs. As a result of the demand,
he says, suppliers are offering rubber oil-/water-resistant
cordage as part of their standard material. "They're not
just making plain SJT anymore," says Mr. Robinson. "They
make SJTOW, because that is the compound they get in." Using
the water-resistant material as a standard allows companies
to carry a smaller number of cord types.
Mr. Robinson believes that while oil-/water-resistant materials
are used for safety considerations by OEMs, for the cord
manufacturer, it's about saving money. Since there is such
a demand for a specific type of cord, it is less expensive
for the cord manufacturer to use it as a standard because
it doesn't have to produce two different types of cords at
In addition, says Karsten Loehken, product specialist,
Networking Products/Industrial Ethernet for Lumberg,
Inc. (Midlothian, VA, U.S.), cords have to be able to
cover more flex cycles than before. "Downtimes are one of
the most important issues in today's highly automated manufacturing," he
says. "Therefore, failures such as broken cables have to
be minimized." To improve flex cycles, Lumberg, Inc. uses
special structures, such as finely stranded conductors. Mr.
Loehken reports that another application-specific characteristic
of cords has to do with the food and beverage industry.
Due to the necessity of having clean equipment to avoid
bacteria, appliances in the food and beverage industry are
subject to washing by a cleanser such as alkaline bleach
or hydrogen peroxide (used in Germany). Therefore, cords
used in food and beverage appliances have to be resistant
to such chemicals. Mr. Loehken says the level of protection
needed in the food and beverage industry requires a protection
degree of IP69K, PVC cable, and stainless steel components.
Manufacturing to meet international specifications is one of the biggest
influences that affects the production of cords and cord sets. Cords are
universal, but that characteristic brings with it many difficulties for
the world's cord and cord set suppliers. The problem is that the configurations
of cords and plugs used in different countries are not universal. This
leads to the continuing issue of global standardization, which most companies
agree will probably never be solved.
The standardization of power cords will always be dependent on diverse electrical
standards and codes from different countries," says Mr. Oden of Unicable,
Inc. These different standards require cord manufacturers to keep many
different types of cords and connectors in their inventories. This, of course,
leads to more cost.
to the Bergquist
Company (Chanhassen, MN, U.S.), these cords for medical equipment
and computers are subjected to hi-pot, temperature, and flex tests
in the factory while the company plans for an in-house UL testing
"It costs the suppliers money not to have standardization," says
Jeff DeLoughery, director of Business and Logistics for Volex,
Inc. (Indianapolis, IN, U.S.).
"There are specialized molds and cords for almost every
country." Mr. Francfort of MEGA
Electronics, Inc adds that the number of standards and
codes is likely to increase. "Unfortunately, the move toward
global standardization is not going in a positive direction," he
says. "More countries are changing their standards and forcing
manufacturers to comply with the changes."
Argentina, China, and Korea have implemented their own
cord and plug standards, and Brazil is reportedly looking
into doing the same. According to Mr. Francfort, China's
new CCC approval standard for power cords will be required
as of Aug. 1, 2003. This trend increases the number of approval
marks that cord set suppliers must carry to sell their products
in those areas.
For U.S.-based suppliers, the most noticeable change in cords and cord
sets has been the trend towards offshore manufacturing. According to Mike
Smalley, vice president of Electric
Cord Sets, Inc. (ECS) (Lakewood, OH, U.S.), all but a small percentage
of cord and cord set manufacturing has moved offshore in the last several
years. "Since December of last year, several large manufacturers closed
completely, and there are more closings on the horizon," says Mr. Smalley.
Offshore manufacturing continues for the most part because parts produced
can be obtained at low cost to the appliance OEM "The industry is price
competitive and cords have become a commodity item," says Mr. DeLoughery.
As with trends in OEM-requested items, opinions on offshore manufacturing
can differ greatly.
"Electric Cord Sets was fortunate to have made strong offshore relationships
early on that have enabled us to remain a viable source in the U.S. market," says
Mr. Smalley. "We are approximately 80-percent offshore and 20-percent domestic
in our production capacities."
The company's remaining domestic capacity allows it to provide shorter
lead times on smaller orders, while providing a backup source in case of
difficulties with offshore production.
While ECS remains active as an importer for the U.S. market, Mr. Smalley
notes that the availability of goods from offshore sources is not always
guaranteed. "We saw a good example of this last fall with the West Coast
dockworkers' strike," he explains. "This year, the SARS epidemic gave rise
to concerns that goods coming from the Far East might be delayed, or halted
Mr. Smalley adds that ECS feels that its domestic production capacity
provides a level of comfort to its customers, who are concerned about such
According to Mr. DeLoughery of Volex,
Inc., offshore manufacturing is driving down prices and making it
difficult for U.S.-based companies to remain viable. He says that contracts
are obtained through e-bids or silent auctions and appliance OEMs announce
the requirements for a contract and take the lowest bidder. "Asian companies
are bidding down the cost of cords," he continues. He asserts that many
companies with winning bids do not provide product that meets regulatory
Another issue involved with the offshore manufacturing debate is quality
control. There has been talk that there are products in the appliance industry
that misrepresent the approval marks of quality control bodies.
Mr. Robinson of Bergquist
Company agrees that he has heard rumors of companies misrepresenting
their approval status. "What you're looking at is a company that says
it has approvals for something and puts a label on it - or just a number
on the plug or the cord itself - that says it is UL or CSA approved," he
says. Yet, he does not think that inferior products are a problem for
Bergquist Company. "We've got a pretty aggressive quality control system,
and if anything doesn't come in labeled correctly, it goes back to where
it came from - or it gets scrapped," he says.
Mr. DeLoughery of Volex, Inc. adds he has seen products using straight
plug blades that will not stay in the plug mold and companies that do not
meet UL requirements for lay length in cords. This becomes a major issue
in floor care products, power tools, and other products where flexibility
is an issue. He uses these as examples of companies cutting corners in
order to cut costs.
For Volex, Inc., the supplier has become the quality control police. "The
majority of OEMs don't do enough testing and research related to regulatory
compliance because economics do not allow for testing facilities," Mr.
Electronics, Inc (New Brunswick, NJ, U.S.) offers twist-lock
plugs, which include the L5/15P, L5/20P, and L6/30P. The company
reports that it is seeing more demand for twist-lock plugs
- often used in industrial applications - from OEMs in the
electronics and computer markets.
Wear Leads to Heavy-Duty Solution
Vesture Corporation (Asheboro, NC, U.S.) had been producing its Vest
200 Quick Heat, a warming bag used for pizza delivery, for close to
1 year when the company realized that something out of the ordinary was
occurring. The company began to notice that its customers - some of the
largest pizza chains in the U.S. - were contacting it for cord replacement
for the Quick Heat more frequently than originally anticipated.
"Some of the cords were only lasting a few weeks," says Stewart Glenn,
director of Quality Assurance for Vesture. According to Mr. Glenn, the
power cords are subjected to an extraordinary amount of wear through normal
usage. "In the normal operation of a warming bag, the cord is plugged in
and unplugged with great frequency," he says. "Then, of course, there are
the incidental snags and pulls, as well."
The company decided that cord replacements every 2 weeks were unacceptable,
and began contacting cord suppliers for possible solutions. Because Vesture
had had dealings with it in the past, one of the companies contacted was Unicable,
Inc. (Bowling Green, KY, U.S.).
After examining the causes of wear on the power cords for the Quick Heat,
Vesture created a special test to measure how well each cord would stand
up to repeated actions. According to Mr. Glenn, each cord was subjected
to a series of repeated pulls at a 45-degree angle. After several rounds
of testing and failed products, Vesture began to work with the engineering
department at Unicable, Inc..
"We developed a new concept to improve the durability of the cord," says
Helga Mayer, vice president of Customer Services for Unicable, Inc. "The
design included heavy-duty molding of the polycarbonate IEC connector body
with a handgrip and adding protective sleeving over the cable jacket." The
heavy-duty molding is made of PVC, and the protective sleeving over the
cable jacket is made of polyester. According to Mr. Glenn, the Unicable,
Inc. solution was subjected to a pull test
more than 2,000 times without failing.
The new, improved version of
the Quick Heat was released in the fall of 2002, and close to 60,000
existing units required retrofitting. Mr. Glenn reports that the new
cable is meeting expectations.
to the previous cord for the Vest 200 Quick Heat, a new cord
a heavy-duty PVC connector body and protective polyester sleeving
over the cable jacket.