Strapped for Space: Perseverance’s cable ties were born in the aviation industry of the 1950s
NASA's Mars Perseverance rover is equipped with Ty-Rap cable ties from ABB.
On February 18, NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover touched down on the Red Planet equipped with an array of cameras, sensors, a robotic arm and communications gear. Keeping everything tidy on the vehicle are Ty-Rap® cable ties from ABB.
The special high-performance Ty-Rap cable ties used on the Perseverance rover are made of Tefzel® ETFE (ethylene-tetrafluoroethylene) resin. When originally created by Thomas & Betts, which is now ABB Installation Products Division, they were manufactured in an aquamarine color to differentiate them from standard cable ties. ETFE is a melt-processable copolymer tested for physical durability and resistance to chemicals, UV, extreme temperatures, and 2,000 times more radiation than the nylon used in standard cable ties, able to withstand the rigors of space and planetary exploration.
This is not the first space mission for Ty-Rap cable ties. Thomas & Betts and ABB Installation Products have provided products to the U.S. space program since 1973, and Ty-Rap cable ties were used on the still-active NASA Curiosity rover, as well as the twin Spirit and Opportunity rovers.
Back on Earth, Ty-Rap cable ties can be found in thousands of applications, but the story of this humble device begins in the aviation industry.
The idea for Ty-Rap cable ties was first conceived in 1956 when Thomas & Betts engineer Maurus C. Logan toured a Boeing aircraft manufacturing facility. Aircraft wiring was a cumbersome and detailed undertaking at that time, involving thousands of feet of wire organized on sheets of 50-foot long plywood and held in place with wax-coated braided nylon cord (aka string).
Each knot had to be pulled tight by wrapping the cord around one’s finger which sometimes cut the operators’ fingers until they developed thick calluses or “hamburger hands.” And what if the knot wasn’t tight enough? That could lead to loosening and wear over time and even a potentially catastrophic failure.
Clearly there had to be a better way, and as an out-of-the-box thinker Logan was well suited to the task of coming up with a better mousetrap.
“My dad didn’t have a lot of formal education,” recalls his son, Robert, “but he was the most ingenious person I have ever met. He never thought the customary way of doing things was good enough and when he looked at anything, he thought about ways to improve it. The invention of the cable tie is an excellent example of how he worked.”
Thomas & Betts’ experimental prototypes quickly evolved into the nylon strip with a metal tang in its head locking device that gives Ty-Rap cable ties the Grip of Steel®. Thomas & Betts (now part of ABB) applied for its first Ty-Rap cable tie patent in 1958. Over 60 years later, more than 28 billion Ty-Rap cable ties have been sold, enough to reach from the Earth to the Moon more than a dozen times.
Maurus Logan eventually retired from Thomas & Betts as the company’s Vice President of Research and Development. He died in 2007 at the age of 86.
Today, Ty-Rap cable ties come in varieties that are resistant to UV rays, harsh chemicals, and extreme heat and cold conditions. One version has been infused with special materials to make it easily detectable if it falls into food processing lines, and a variety of related Ty-Fast® cable ties have been designed to kill microbes on the cable tie surface. Stainless steel versions are also available for flameproof applications and coated stainless ties are available to prevent galvanic corrosion from contact between dissimilar metals.
In addition to their work in space, Ty-Rap cable ties can be found on race cars in Formula One and the Dakar Rally, in searing solar power farms and weather-lashed wind generators, and on deep-ocean drilling rigs. They also do a pretty good job of organizing your desktop computer cables.