Both types of cables are available in the market—round ones and flats, and people use them according to the requirements of the application. As round cables were the first to arrive on the market, the industry has been using them as standard for long, in applications ranging from renewable energy to automation and manufacturing in general.
Flat cables arrived late on the scene, and offer a niche solution presently. However, they are gaining ground steadily for applications within the civil-aircraft markets, semiconductor industry, medical field, and for supplying data and power to machines. Flat cables are also called festoon cables, and the overhead crane companies actively use them for applications where winding cables around spools is difficult.
Comparison of Electrical Performance
The protection for internal EMI depends heavily on the construction of the cable. In general, flat cables do not transfer data very well. Individual shielded pairs within flat cables are necessary to provide coupling and crosstalk protection from pair to pair.
Most shielding materials to not hold a flat format and tends to become round. This makes it difficult to place a shield on the flat cable overall. This also makes it difficult to protect and shield a flat cable from the effects of external EMI. The naturally round shielding tendency provides greater protection against influences of external EMI on round cables.
The length of a cable, its quality of insulation, and the resistance of its conductors determines the voltage drop or attenuation on a power cable and this is immaterial whether the cable is round or flat. In both cases, higher quality of insulation and proper positioning of the ground wire improves the attenuation. Certain industries demand very high-performance (low attenuation and crosstalk) flat cables. With proper shielding, it is possible to transmit both power and signals through the same cable.
Comparison of Mechanical Performance
Cables in the industry face mechanical stresses of four main types—S-bend, rolling flex, tic-toc, and torsion. The natural capability of being able to move in multiple axes at the same time makes round cables capable of withstanding all the stresses. For instance, round cables can flex 30 million times in certain applications. On the other hand, flat cables can withstand only rolling flex, as the movement is only in one linear axis.
Movements in several axes such as during torsion can lead to flat cables binding, or twisting beyond a certain point. When under torsional loads, flat cables can spool and twist over a certain length. Preventing this requires every component of a flat cable to be integrated at the right position and twist. It also requires the cable to be embedded or wrapped with a PTFE (Teflon) tape for minimizing the frictional forces during torsion.
Round cables can maximally utilize the space inside the smallest required cross-sectional area. Drilling a round hole is easier than cutting a rectangle. Therefore, most machine or panel openings use round cables where using a flat cable may be more difficult, as it has an elongated cross-section. However, it is possible to stack flat cables to make them fit together in a smaller space than it is with round cables.