The Difference Between Industrial Cable and Wire

On warehouse floors, the terms “cable” and “wire” are sometimes used interchangeably. Electrical and communications contractors sometimes use the words to describe the same products, too — but most understand the key differences.

Put simply, a wire is a single conductor and a cable is a group of conductors. A wire is often a single strand of a conductive material (referred to as a solid wire), but some wires consist of multiple strands bound together (stranded wires or standard wires). Stranded wires are more flexible than solid wires, which may be beneficial for some applications. Wires are sometimes insulated, typically with a layer of PVC (a “sheath”), but they’re often bare.

Cables have at least two conductors, which are often insulated. The conductors may be twisted (as with a twisted-pair cable) to prevent electromagnetic interference. A common example of this type of cable is industrial ethernet cable, which is highly susceptible to interference from arc welders, light fixtures, and other equipment.

Some key distinctions between cable and wire include:

  • Cost – Single-conductor wires are inexpensive, since they’re fundamentally simpler than cable. Of course, cost varies with the material and intended purpose of the product.
  • Strength – Since cables consist of multiple conductors, they’re generally stronger and more durable than wires.
    When using either type of product, pay close attention to the manufacturer-provided specification sheet; all cables and wires have tension limits, and even hardy cables should be handled carefully to avoid kinks, tears, and other physical damage that could affect their performance or create a safety hazard. Immediately replace any damaged wire or cable.
  • Insulation – Cables generally have more insulation than wires, which makes them a better choice for handling lower frequencies. Wire is ideal for higher frequencies.

Both wires and cables can be used to transfer electricity or to carry telecommunications signals. However, the properties of the conductors will determine whether a cable or a wire is a better option for a given application.

Addressing Workplace Hazards When Installing Cable and Wire

Both cables and wires can create hazards in the workplace. Some of those hazards are easy to identify — wherever possible and appropriate, cables and wires should be run through appropriate conduit or kept off of the floor entirely to prevent trip hazards (and to preserve the life of the product).

Other hazards are less obvious. When handling cables and wires, workers need access to high-quality equipment to ensure smooth pulls. Otherwise, the product can easily sustain damage that affects its performance. More importantly, poor pulls mean bad ergonomics; avoiding workplace injuries should be a top priority during any cable or wire installation project.

BHS offers a variety of carts and payout systems to simplify wire management. The Wire Pull Cart (WPC) features fully adjustable shafts, which can accommodate reels of any size. Its slim profile makes transportation easy, and stock fork pockets allow workers to move the cart from floor to floor with relative ease. Wire guides keep payout steady, while the padlockable doors ensure security for materials on the jobsite.

For loose coils of wire, the Wire Coil Cart (WCC) features a simple, ergonomic design that enables workers to transport up to 2,000 pounds of wire (or any other coiled material). For onsite installation, the Parallel Reel Payout (PRP) line offers access to bulk capacities, while the Spool Winding Trolley with Industrial Internet of Things functionality (SWT-IIoT) automates reel-filling while counting each linear foot of material.