From the red planet to the engines of red-hot race cars, human ingenuity finds hundreds of uses for this simple invention
A cable tie.
It’s such a simple, humble device, we tend to think of it as something that has been around since the dawn of time, like the wheel.
In fact, the cable tie we know today is very much a product of our modern technological age. It was born 60 years ago as a light, quick and reliable way to tie electrical cables together in airplanes – Ty-Rap®, a feat of practical engineering from Thomas & Betts, a member of the ABB group.
Since then, it has been rethought, re-engineered, repurposed and rethought again. Including different sizes, materials and uses, ABB alone carries more than 250 different varieties of Ty-Rap along with a few hundred more accessories, and its uses are limited only by the boundaries of human ingenuity.
Ty-Rap sits on the surface of Mars. It rests in the engine compartments of million-dollar race cars and cross-country rally buggies. It holds cable in broiling solar power farms, acid-washed chemical plants and salt-sprayed oil rigs. And we have taught a robot to use it. In short, a form of Ty-Rap has been developed to handle some of the most rugged and high-tech conditions imaginable on planet Earth and in the solar system around us.
Or, you can use it to build a park bench. Your choice.
Here’s a brief look at how Ty-Rap came to be, and how it has been re-engineered for multiple uses:
Invention. The idea for Ty-Rap was first conceived in 1956 when Thomas & Betts engineer Maurus C. Logan noticed workers in a Boeing airplane plant laboriously tying electrical cables into the fuselage with waxed string. His experimental prototypes quickly evolved into the nylon strip with a metal tang in its head that gives Ty-Rap its Grip of Steel® today. Thomas & Betts applied for its first Ty-Rap patent in 1958.
Space. As the space race progressed, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA, needed equipment that would not emit gasses, even in the frigid temperatures, intense radiation and vacuum of space. Gasses can interfere with the sensitive instruments that satellites and other space vehicles use to analyze extraterrestrial atmospheres, among other things. Basic Ty-Rap is made of nylon – a wonderful material on Earth, but one that would give up multiple gasses and dry out quickly in space. The answer: Ty-Rap made with ETFE, a sophisticated fluoropolymer related to Teflon™. The new ties rest on the surface of Mars with NASA’s Martian rover. Due to their almost bullet-proof resistance to heat, cold, radiation, flames and other hazards, they are also popular with high-end race car builders and others who need to protect highly expensive parts from the elements.
Nylon 12. The age of solar power called for cable ties that can withstand intense exposure to UV light, but are less expensive than NASA-quality Ty-Rap. ABB responded with nylon 12, a new substance that can take UV rays, along with the widely fluctuating temperatures of the great outdoors, and remain strong and pliable. It absorbs far less water than normal nylon – the secret to its strength.
Detectable Ty-Rap. What happens when a piece of broken cable tie gets mixed into your food produc-tion line? Nothing good. To prevent that hazard, ABB infused Ty-Rap nylon with a highly engineered mix of metals. The metals can be picked up by X-ray and metal detection machines installed on food processing lines to look for just such hazards, yet the tie retains all the strength and suppleness of regular Ty-Rap.
Robotics. YuMi, ABB’s state-of-the-art collaborative two-arm robot, easily learned to twist the tail off the Twist Tail™ cable tie in 2015, adding yet another dexterous skill to its repertoire of industrial uses.
Park benches. And then there are the park benches. For several years, ABB built simple metal bench frames for its trade show booths and invited attendees to tie a Ty-Rap cable tie to it. By the end of a week, voilà – a functional park bench, fully strung with Ty-Rap.
An ad-hoc park bench made with cable ties waits for its finishing touches at an ABB trade show
Just another example of how Ty-Rap – that simple, humble device – has become part of the fabric of our lives.
With, probably, many more clever uses yet to come.